Francis Albert Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American singer who is considered one of the finest vocalists of all time, renowned for his impeccable phrasing and timing. At 37, Sinatra launched a second career as a film actor, and became admired for a screen persona distinctly tougher than his smooth singing style.
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey as the son of a quiet father and a talented, tempestuous mother, Sinatra decided to become a singer after hearing Bing Crosby on the radio. He began singing in small clubs in New Jersey and eventually attracted the attention of trumpeter and band-leader Harry James.
'Old Blue Eyes' belts one out
After a brief stint with James, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940 where he rose to fame as a singer. His vast appeal to the "bobby soxers ", as teenage girls were then called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music, which had appealed mainly to adults up to that time. He was the first singing teen idol.
He later recorded as a solo artist with some success, particularly during the musicians' recording strikes. Vocalists were not part of the musician union and were allowed to record during the ban by using a capella vocal backing.
Sinatra's singing career was in decline in the late 1940s and early 1950s when he made a spectacular comeback as an actor in From Here to Eternity (1953), which won him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. His singing career rebounded soon afterward. He later appeared in many films, the most noteworthy being The Man with the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candidate. In 1954, Sinatra played a crazed, coldblooded assassin determined to kill the President in the thriller Suddenly also starring Sterling Hayden. Critics have found Sinatra's performance one of the most chilling portrayals of a psychopath ever committed to film. Sinatra, however, insisted the film be removed from distribution after he learned that Lee Harvey Oswald had watched it shortly before he assassinated President Kennedy.
Sinatra originally recorded for Columbia Records in the 1940s but switched to Capitol Records in the 1950s, where he worked with many of the finest arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle and Billy May, with whom he made a series of highly regarded recordings. By the early 1960s, he was a big enough star to start his own record label: Reprise Records. His position with the label earned him the long-lasting nickname "The Chairman of the Board".
In the 1950s and 1960s, Sinatra was a popular attraction in Las Vegas. He was friends with many other entertainers, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Together, along with actor Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop, they formed the core of the Rat Pack, a loose group of entertainers who were friends and socialized together.
Sinatra played a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. Sinatra led his fellow members of the Rat Pack in refusing to patronize hotels and casinos that denied service to Sammy Davis Jr., an African-American. As the Rat Pack became the subject of great media attention due to the release of the film Ocean's Eleven, many hotels and casinos, desiring the attention that would come from the presence of Sinatra and the Rat Pack in their properties, relented on their policies of segregation.
Sinatra could be enormously generous and kind, but he always had a hair-trigger temper. He once ripped a phone out of the wall at the Sands Hotel, broke some windows and set part of the office on fire. Asked an innocent question by a reporter outside one of President Kennedy's preinaugural balls, Sinatra barked: "Where are you from? Bulgaria?"
A series of recent low-grade brawling incidents had been widely covered in the media on the night in 1957 that Sinatra and some of his Rat Pack pals dropped in on the act of insult comedian Don Rickles at a Hollywood club called the Slate Brothers. Rickles, who spared no one during his act, immediately ad libbed: "Here's Frank Sinatra. Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody." After an awed silence, broken only by a few titters on the floor, Sinatra laughed with gusto and the tension was broken.
Far more than most men, Sinatra's moods careened from hot anger to keen amusement. Enraged by a casino manager named Carl Cohen, Sinatra dumped hot coffee on Cohen, who responded by punching Sinatra in the mouth so hard it knocked out both of Sinatra's front teeth. Sinatra shrugged and eventually concluded, as he told Kirk Douglas, "Never fight a Jew in the desert."
Sinatra was married to his childhood sweetheart Nancy Barbato , in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 4, 1939. They had three children together: Nancy Sinatra (born June 8, 1940), Frank Sinatra, Jr. (born January 10, 1943), and Christine "Tina" Sinatra (born June 20, 1948). Although Sinatra did not remain faithful to his wife, he was by many accounts a devoted father. However, his affair with Ava Gardner became public and the couple was separated in 1950. They were divorced on October 29, 1951.
Sinatra married the actress Ava Gardner on November 7, 1951, only ten days after his divorce from his first wife became final. They were separated on October 27, 1953 but were not divorced until 1957.
Sinatra asked Lauren Bacall to marry him, but changed his mind and left her confused and angry.
On December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped. Sinatra paid the kidnappers' $240,000 ransom demand (even offering $1,000,000 if only his son would be returned, though the kidnappers bizarrely turned this offer down), and his son was released unharmed on December 10. Because the kidnappers demanded that Sinatra call them only from payphones, Sinatra carried a roll of dimes with him throughout the ordeal, which became a lifetime habit, and supposedly was even buried with one, as mentioned below. The kidnappers were subsequently apprehended and convicted and are widely regarded as rather incompetent, amateurish chancers.
Sinatra married actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior, in 1966. They were divorced two years later.
Barbara Sinatra divorced her husband Zeppo Marx to marry Sinatra. They were wed in 1976. She remained his wife until his death.
Sinatra was dogged throughout his later career by accusations that he was involved with the Mafia and that his career was aided behind the scenes by associates in organized crime. J. Edgar Hoover apparently suspected Sinatra over the years, and Sinatra's file at the FBI ended up at 2,403 pages, as he was accused of extortion against Ronald Alpert for $100,000.00. Sinatra publicly rejected these accusations many times, and was never charged with any crimes in connection with them.
One of his uncles, Babe Gavarante, was a member of a Bergen County armed gang connected to the organization of Willie Moretti. He was convicted of murder in 1921 in connection with an armed robbery in which he had driven the get-away car. Sinatra was also allegedly personally linked to Willie Moretti, his first wife Nancy Barbato was a cousin of one of his senior henchmen and he sang at his daughter's wedding in 1948. According to testimony from Moretti, Sinatra received help from him in arranging performances in return for kick-backs.
He had associations with and did favours for Charles Fischetti , a notorious Chicago mobster dating back to 1946 according to the FBI. Sinatra was also friends with Charles's brother Joseph who ran the Fontainebleau Hotel complex in Miami, who arranged work for him and introduced him to Charles Luciano in Havana. After Luciano's deportation to Italy, Sinatra visited him at least twice, singing at a 1946 Christmas Party and gifting the famed mobster with a gold cigarette case engraved "To my dear pal Charlie, from his friend Frank" the next year. These visits were widely reported by the media and used as further evidence of Sinatra's ties to the mob, haunting him for the rest of his life. Among the allegations were the $2 million dollars that Sinatra gave Luciano. As Joseph "Doc" Stacher later recalled of the Havana meeting, "The Italians among us were all very proud of Frank. They always told me they had spent a lot of money helping him in his career ever since he was in Tommy Dorsey’s band. Lucky Luciano was very fond of Frank’s singing. Frankie flew into Havana with the Fischettis, with whom he was very friendly, but of course, our meeting had nothing to do with hearing him croon…Everyone brought envelopes of money for Luciano …But more important, they came to pay allegiance to him." The "Havana" allegations - while the basis of rumors for Sinatra's mob ties - have never been proved.
Sinatra had a strong friendship with Sam Giancana who always wore a sapphire friendship ring given to him by Sinatra, and who ordered the killing of 200 people. A number of alleged incidents have been noted where people who angered Sinatra have been threatend by Giancana's mob. Comedian Jackie Mason has alleged that after mocking Sinatra in his routine, he received threats and his hotel room was shot up in his presence. After he continued he received death threats and was roughed up and his nose was broken
The character Johnny Fontane in the book and movie The Godfather is widely viewed as having been inspired by Frank Sinatra and his alleged connections. Indeed, Sinatra was furious with Godfather author Mario Puzo over the Fontane character and reportedly confronted Puzo in public with profane threats.
Sinatra's singing career continued into the 1990s, most notably with his Duets albums on which he sang with other stars such as U2's Bono. He continued to perform live until 1995, but the nearly 80-year-old singer often had to rely on teleprompters for his lyrics, to compensate for his failing memory.
In Japan, Frank Sinatra appeared in commercials for All Nippon Airways.
A frequent visitor, property owner and benefactor in the Palm Springs, California area, Sinatra wished to be buried in the desert he grew to love so much. Though Sinatra died in 1998 (of multiple ailments) in Los Angeles, his funeral was held some 120 miles east at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs.
Sinatra's last words were (according to his daughter Nancy Sinatra, as told to Variety senior columnist Army Archerd): "I'm losing it."
Sinatra was buried a few miles due east of St. Theresa next to his parents in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, a quiet, unassuming cemetery near his famous compound in Rancho Mirage which is located on the beautiful, tree-lined thoroughfare that bears his name. His longtime friend Jilly Rizzo, who died in a Rancho Mirage car crash shortly before Sinatra's death is buried nearby as is pop star, former Palm Springs mayor and Congressman, Sonny Bono. Legend has it that Sinatra was buried with a flask of Jack Daniel's whiskey, a roll of dimes (in reference to the kidnapping of his son, see above), a lighter (which some take to be a reference to his mob connections) and a packet of Camel cigarettes.
Sinatra left a vast legacy of recordings, from his very first sides with the Harry James orchestra in 1939, the vast catalogs at Columbia in the 1940s, Capitol in the 1950s, and Reprise from the 1960s onwards, up to his 1994 album Duets II. Some of his best known recordings are "My Way", "New York, New York", "Night and Day", "Love and Marriage", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Strangers in the Night", and "Fly Me To The Moon". Of all his many albums, At the Sands With Count Basie, which was recorded live in Las Vegas in 1966, with Sinatra in his prime, backed by Count Basie's big band, remains his most popular and is still a big seller.
- Major Bowes Amateur Theatre of the Air (1935) (short subject)
Las Vegas Nights (1941)
- Ship Ahoy (1942)
- Reveille with Beverly (1943)
- Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
- Upbeat in Music (1943) (short subject) (scenes deleted)
- Higher and Higher (1944)
- Road to Victory (1944) (short subject)
- Step Lively (1944)
- The All-Star Bond Rally (1945) (short subject)
Anchors Aweigh (1945)
The House I Live In (1945) (short subject)
- MGM Christmas Trailer (1945) (short subject)
- Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
- It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)
- (1947) (short subject)
- Lucky Strike Salesman's Movie 48-A (1948) (short subject)
- The Miracle of the Bells (1948)
- The Kissing Bandit (1948)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
On the Town (1949)
- Double Dynamite (1951)
- Meet Danny Wilson (1952)
- (1952) (short subject)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
- Young at Heart (1954)
- Not as a Stranger (1955)
Finian's Rainbow (1955) (animated musical, recorded songs with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, film never completed)
Guys and Dolls (1955)
- The Tender Trap (1955)
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Carousel (1956) (recorded several songs, shot several scenes, walked off set and was replaced by Gordon MacRae)
- (1956) (short subject)
- Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) (cameo)
High Society (1956)
- Johnny Concho (1956)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
- The Pride and the Passion (1957)
- The Joker Is Wild (1957)
Pal Joey (1957)
- Kings Go Forth (1958)
Some Came Running (1958)
- Invitation to Monte Carlo (1959) (documentary)
- A Hole in the Head (1959)
- Premier Khrushchev in the USA (1959) (documentary)
- Never So Few (1959)
Ocean's Eleven (1960)
- Pepe (1960) (cameo)
- The Devil at Four O'Clock (1961)
- Sinatra In Israel (1962) (short subject)
- Sergeants 3 (1962)
- The Road to Hong Kong (1962) (cameo)
Advise and Consent (1962) (voice)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
- The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) (cameo)
Come Blow Your Horn (1963)
- 4 for Texas (1963)
Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)
- A Tribute to the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital (1965) (short subject)
- None But the Brave (1965) (also producer and director)
Von Ryan's Express (1965)
- Marriage on the Rocks (1965)
- The Oscar (1966)
- Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)
- Assault on a Queen (1966)
- Think Twentieth (1967) (short subject)
- The Naked Runner (1967)
- Tony Rome (1967)
- The Detective (1968)
- Lady in Cement (1968)
- Dirty Dingus Magee (1970)
- That's Entertaiment! (1974)
- Rene Simard in Japan (1974) (documentary)
- The First Deadly Sin (1980)
Cannonball Run II (1984)
- (1990) (documentary)
- In Person (1993) (voice) (short subject)