Saturday Odds & Sods: Sinatra Centennial Edition

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Frank Sinatra in his natural habitat: the recording studio.

It’s been a fine week here at Adrastos World HQ deep in the heart of Uptown New Orleans. On Tuesday night, Dr. A and I saw the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Rocks Extravaganza at the Saenger Theatre. I summed it up quite well on the book of faces so why rewrite it?

Self-quotation is increasingly my thing. While we’re on the subject of Brian Setzer, here’s a clever animated video for his new holiday single:

I bet the music sounded familiar. I do, however, miss the dulcet tones of Barney Rubble’s laugh. It’s actually more of a giggle or even a titter. According to Dr. A, I’m a cackler

People have been asking me all week if I watched the Sinatra 100 special on CBS. Hell to the no. While I like the idea of a tribute to the Chairman of the Board, it’s not like having folks sing Beatles songs. Sinatra was an interpretive singer with outstanding taste in material. Some would call him a curator but I won’t because the Frank geist might punch me in the face. Anyway, I’ve lived this long without hearing Celine Dion massacre All The Way. I’d rather hear the real deal:

This is an oddly unusual Odds & Sods post. Typically, we have a theme song but this week’s theme is Happy 100th Birthday to Frank Sinatra and who the hell wants to sing the lame-ass birthday song? A Sinatra-Satchmo duet will have to do:

Speaking of duets, here’s one of Frank’s odder ones with Elvis not long after the latter left the army:

Unlike your humble blogger, Frank disliked rock music so I’ll spare you any clips from his 1993 Duets album. That way we won’t have to see Bono murder I’ve Got You Under My Skin. It makes  me feel like punching the wall and I’m not in the mood for pain, even if the forecast calls for it.

More punch drunk blogging after the break. Time to break out the Jack Daniel’s.

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Yeah, I know that’s a contemporary ad but I couldn’t resist. It’s certainly a better product than cancer sticks:

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I suspect there’s one of them thar fancy double entendres in that ad. Along with his more visible talents, Sinatra was known for his large member. That’s right, he was the original Italian Stallion…

Frank and Me: I didn’t really become a fan of Sinatra’s music until the 1980’s. It was often in the backdrop at my parents house but when my musical tastes formed I was a hippie. Hippies did not listen to Frank Sinatra at that time and place. And Frank was openly hostile to hippies. I was a rebellious kid and my folks were Sinatra fans so what else could I do? I knew, however, in the back of my mind that he was fucking good.

I met Sinatra once. It was short but sweet. My father, Lou, met him on 4 or 5 occasions and encountered belligerent asshole Frank twice, and charming, warm, and friendly Francis Albert the other times. Sinatra was both dudes: he was a complex and highly emotional man. I think almost everything written about him has some basis in truth.

Back to our brief meeting. My father and I went to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco to visit Telly Savalas. According to Lou, Telly was a cousin but he never bothered with levels of consanguinity. His perennial refrain was: “We’re Greek. A cousin is a cousin.” Yeah, whatever. I really should call Skip Gates but I don’t want to ruin a good story with the facts. Facts are pesky things.

We located Maybe Cousin Telly in the bar. No surprise there. Telly liked a drink as much, if not more, than the next fellow. We were surprised, however, to find him sitting with Frank Sinatra and his bodyguard/wingman/goon Jilly Rizzo. We met smiling, charming Francis Albert that day. I guess he was imbued with the Kojakian muse: Who loves ya, baby?

For once I decided to behave. I was tempted to ask some unwelcome questions but resisted.  I didn’t ask about the horse’s head story in The Godfather or why he became a Republican. I knew I’d get asshole belligerent Frank if I did that, especially since I had shoulder length hair in those days. Repeat after me: Sinatra hated hippies. I asked him instead about From Here To Eternity, which I had recently seen at the Strand Theatre. He winked and said, “You’re okay, kid.” Then he and Jilly got up and left. I told Telly about my evil thoughts and he laughed his best movie villain laugh and said: “I’d like to hear those answers myself.”

Lou shook his head and said, “Glad you didn’t,son. He might have kicked you in the slats if you had.”

The slats were a mysterious place that Lou liked to threaten to kick folks in. I asked him repeatedly where the slats were. His stock reply: “If I ever kick you there, you’ll know.”

He never did. The mystery of the slats continues to this very day.

My Sinatra fandom exloded in the early 2000’s as I started accumulating the CD versions of such classics as Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, For The Lonely, A Swingin’ Affair, In The Wee Small Hours of the Evening, and Come Dance With Me. I began to appreciate the intricate arrangements of  Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Gordon Jenkins and a very young Quincy Jones. Additionally, what’s not to love about a song with lyrics like this:

“Hey there cutes, put on your Basie boots and come dance with me
Come dance with me, what an evening for some Terpsichore.”

And nobody sold a lyric, even a goofy one, like Sinatra. Time to stop typing and start dancing:

I looked at IMDB and learned that 349 Sinatra tracks have been on movie soundtracks over the years.  Truly remarkable, but if you want to evoke the period between 1943 and 1963, who better than the Chairman of The Board? One of my favorite uses of a Sinatra song was in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. It’s the scene where Leo’s con man character poses as a Pan Am pilot to the tune of Come Fly With Me.

Now that we’ve flown together, let’s move on to the single best-known article about Sinatra:

Sinatra Has A Cold: Gay Talese tried like hell to interview Sinatra for Esquire in 1966. He kept getting rebuffed but he kept trying. Frank never spoke to him but the piece is epic:

FRANK SINATRA, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.

Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra — A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.

Talese resurfaced as the centennial approached, which is a good thing in my estimation. Along with Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer,  he’s one of the founders of the New Journalism. There’s even an annotated version of Sinatra Has A Cold online. I am not making this up, y’all.

The Night Sinatra Happened: One of the best things online about Sinatra’s early days is an excerpt at Vanity Fair from James Kaplan’s book, Frank: The Voice. It concludes on the night that Frank went from a kid big band singer to the first modern pop music idol.

Speaking of Frank: The Voice, there’s a swell review of it at the New York Review Of Books by Geoffrey O’Brien. I have not read Kaplan’s tome, but maybe I’ll get it for Christmas if I can somehow move from the naughty to the nice list. Who am I kidding? I’m still naughty after all these years.

Let’s close out this segment about the young man with a full head-of-hair by playing a few of his early hits:

It’s time to goose things up and take a gander at Frank’s years as a movie star. We begin with a piece about Sinatra’s Oscar-winning performance in From Here To Eternity. No horses were decapitated in the writing of this segment.

Frank’s Oscar: The character of Maggio was a guy much like Sinatra except for the whole getting bullied by Ernie Borgnine thing. Does anybody really think Marty the Butcher could intimidate Nathan Detroit?

Here’s the opening graph of Mike D’Angelo’s article at The Dissolve:

Thanks to The Godfather, Frank Sinatra’s Oscar-winning performance in From Here To Eternity is now less discussed than the notion that he got the role after the mob killed Harry Cohn’s favorite horse and left its head beside Cohn’s pillow. While that story is probably apocryphal, it’s certainly true that Sinatra, whose career (in both film and music) was foundering at the time, begged to be cast; he wound up accepting a salary of only $8,000 (about $70,000 today), a tiny fraction of what he made for starring in 1940s musicals like Anchors Aweigh and On The Town. His turn as Eternity’s hotheaded Private Maggio provided instant resuscitation, perhaps in part because it gave him a rare opportunity to play a victim: Ernest Borgnine’s vicious Staff Sergeant Judson repeatedly calls Maggio a wop, then effectively beats him to death (offscreen), though first, Sinatra gets to deliver a poignant final speech in Montgomery Clift’s arms.

Poor Frank. Probably apocryphal is a gross understatement. It never happened even if I keep making horse’s heads jokes: I’m shameless that way. Ava Gardner helped Frank get a screen test and when director Fred Zinnemann saw it, he wanted the former teen idol. No wise guy trickery required. Besides, Sinatra’s relationship with the mob has been overblown. He grew up in Jersey, so naturally he knew mobsters. He knew other gangsters from the night club circuit: most swanky clubs in Frank’s day were owned by wise guys. By this standard, Bob Newhart or Don Rickles were connected since they played the same circuit and knew the same wise guys. Essentially, Frank didn’t think anyone else had the right to tell him who to associate with. He was a saloon singer and they owned many of the saloons.  Shorter Sinatra: Fuck you, J. Edgar Heehaw.

Back to Frank Sinatra as an actor. He was a notoriously impatient actor; preferring to do everything in one take. His finest performances came working with directors who understood this and worked to accommodate his needs. Oddly enough, he was a very patient recording artist, more than willing to do retakes. I guess that tells you where his priorities lay.

Sinatra’s 10 Best Films: I thought making this list would be easier since Frank’s music was his top priority. Wrong. I considered at least 15 movies before concocting this list. The first-runner up is High Society but it missed the cut because it was a remake of a superior film. There is only one CK Dexter Haven.  High Society is still a good one.

It’s Listz-o-mania time:

  1. From Here To Eternity: The most obvious choice since it’s one of the best films of the 1950’s. What’s not to love about a cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Monty Clift, Deborah Kerr, and Donna Reed cast against type as a hooker with a heart of gold. And some Italian dude gave a pretty good performance as well.
  2. On The Town: One of my all-time favorite musicals. “New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. The people ride in a hole in the ground.”
  3. The Manchurian Candidate: The other question I didn’t ask Frank that night at the Fairmont was about this great film, which, as producer he pulled from release for many years. I may be a troll but I’m not a cruel troll.
  4. Guys and Dolls: Another swingin’ musical that Frank carries on his scrawny shoulders.
  5. The Man With The Golden Arm: Heavy duty Otto Preminger drama with Sinatra as a junkie.
  6. Anchor’s Aweigh: The picture that launched Sinatra’s movie career. Gene Kelly supposedly taught Frank how to dance on set. Sinatra was a willing pupil. He even did the shimmy.
  7. Von Ryan’s Express: An eccentric Adrastos pick. It’s a World War II POW escape movie set on a train. Hence the title. A very exciting thriller with a fine performance by Sinatra. It’s a pity that they didn’t call it Von Ryan’s Espresso
  8. Suddenly: A gritty little film noir with Frank in full-tilt asshole Sinatra mode. I wonder if Jilly Rizzo coached him on thuggery? I featured this film on Pulp Fiction Thursday last year.
  9. Robin and his 7 Hoods: Swell musical that sets the Robin Hood myth in Chicago during prohibition. I wrote about the soundtrack album for Album Cover Art Wednesday a mere two months ago.
  10. Pal Joey: Dark and cynical Rodgers and Hart musical with Sinatra as a rat bastard. A great musical that proves why I’m a Lorenz Hart, not an Oscar Hammerstein guy. Hart was one of the wittiest lyricists of all-time and Hammerstein was something of a plodder. Btw, my cat was NOT named for Hammerstein…

RANDOM CLIPS: Over the years, I’ve stumbled into some swell Sinatra clips. Here are a few for your enjoyment.

Nancy Sinatra On Her Father: This short was done for TCM and focused on Sinatra the actor.

Rickles Surprises Frank on the Tonight Show: The first time I saw this clip, I nearly wet myself. Mr. Warmth gets away with murder and the Chairman of the Board let’s him do so.

The Sinatra-Crosby Christmas Special: This 1957 teevee special features Frank trimming the tree and plugging Bulova watches and Chesterfield cigarettes. It features hokey scenes wherein Frank and Bing exchange LPs and go caroling in top hatted splendour. Frank should stick to fedoras, y’all.

Documentary Of The Week: The best documentary about the life and times of Sinatra is Alex Gibney’s All Or Nothing At All. It’s a warts and all portrait even though Tina, Nancy, and Frank Jr worked with Gibney. The Sinatra kids are stand-up guys like their old man.

All Or Nothing At All debuted on HBO last April and I reviewed it for First Draft. I decided to skip the whole self-quotation thing for once. I like to confuse y’all. Why? I’ll never know. I give All Or Nothing At All 4 stars, an Adrastos grade of A and a stout Ebertian thumbs up. As Frank might have said: Ring-a-Ding-Ding.

It’s time to post a few more tunes before we wind this post up like a Bulova watch:

Speaking of Rodgers and Hart, here’s a tune that was first performed on film by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney of all people:

It’s time to circle back to the beginning of this epic post and present one of Sinatra’s most famous duets on-you guessed it-a Rodgers and Hart tune from Pal Joey. I suspect you’ll recognize the chick singer:

Finally, a little something I put together a few months back on CD. It has been transformed into a YouTube play list featuring alternating songs by Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen two of New Jersey’s favorite sons. I think it works pretty darn well. I hope y’all enjoy it despite the occasional commercial. I give you without further ado:

The Chairman of the Board Meets The Boss:

That’s it for this week. Since Frank Sinatra was never a Batman villain, I decided to do something completely different with the closing meme picture. The young Sinatra’s mugshot has become iconic. It can be seen on the wall in Tony Soprano’s “office” at Bada-Bing. Unlike Ralphie, I’m sure Frank would never disrespect the Bing or Der Bingle for that matter:

Sinatra Meme

 

7 thoughts on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Sinatra Centennial Edition

  1. mmferry1965 says:

    Well, made it to the end. Great post — epic indeed.

    So was Telly Savalas playing Kojak at the time, or was it prior? Just wondering.

  2. Peter Adrastos Athas says:

    It was near the end of the run. I’m old but not that old. When my mom saw the premiere episode of Kojak her reaction was, “Finally. Telly’s playing someone as nice as he is in real life.”

  3. Ray says:

    Lord!, that mugshot looks like Harry Connick Jr.

  4. Darlene says:

    Wonderful overview of his career Peter! I didn’t realize that you love Frank and know about as much about him as I do about him. You’re maybe cousins with Telly? Do you remembe Nancy Berbarian? She was related to Mike Connors. The two of you had 70s cop shows cornered.

  5. steve timberlake says:

    Did you know that David Westheimer wrote a sequel to his book Von Ryan’s Express? Yep, the book’s ending differed from the film’s. I’ve read the sequel and it ain’t bad. It doesn’t compare to the first book, however.

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