Photo: TV-Radio Mirror publisher-Macfadden Publications, New York / Public domain
Full name : Francis Albert Sinatra
Born: December 12, 1915
Born Place: Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
Died: May 14, 1998
Death Place: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, United States
Francis Albert Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American singer, actor and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide.
Born to Italian immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra began his musical career in the swing era with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. Sinatra found success as a solo artist after he signed with Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers”. He released his debut album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, in 1946. But by the early 1950s his professional career had stalled and he turned to Las Vegas, where he became one of its best known residency performers as part of the Rat Pack. His career was reborn in 1953 with the success of From Here to Eternity, with his performance subsequently winning an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. Sinatra released several critically lauded albums, including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956), Come Fly with Me (1958), Only the Lonely (1958) and Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960).
Sinatra left Capitol in 1960 to start his own record label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums. In 1965, he recorded the retrospective album, September of My Years and starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music. After releasing Sinatra at the Sands, recorded at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Vegas with frequent collaborator Count Basie in early 1966, the following year he recorded one of his most famous collaborations with Tom Jobim, the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. It was followed by 1968’s Francis A. & Edward K. with Duke Ellington. Sinatra retired for the first time in 1971, but came out of retirement two years later. He recorded several albums and resumed performing at Caesars Palace, and released “New York, New York” in 1980. Using his Las Vegas shows as a home base, he toured both within the United States and internationally until shortly before his death in 1998.
Sinatra forged a highly successful career as a film actor. After winning an Academy Award for From Here to Eternity, he starred in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and received critical acclaim for his performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). He appeared in various musicals such as On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), High Society (1956), and Pal Joey (1957), winning another Golden Globe for the latter. Toward the end of his career, he frequently played detectives, including the title character in Tony Rome (1967). Sinatra would later receive the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1971. On television, The Frank Sinatra Show began on ABC in 1950, and he continued to make appearances on television throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Sinatra was also heavily involved with politics from the mid-1940s, and actively campaigned for presidents such as Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Sinatra was investigated by the FBI for his alleged relationship with the Mafia.
While Sinatra never learned how to read music, he worked very hard from a young age to improve his abilities in all aspects of music. A perfectionist, renowned for his dress sense and performing presence, he always insisted on recording live with his band. His bright blue eyes earned him the popular nickname “Ol’ Blue Eyes”. Sinatra led a colorful personal life, and was often involved in turbulent affairs with women, such as with his second wife Ava Gardner. He later married Mia Farrow in 1966 and Barbara Marx in 1976. Sinatra had several violent confrontations, usually with journalists he felt had crossed him, or work bosses with whom he had disagreements. He was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Sinatra was also the recipient of eleven Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was collectively included in Time magazine’s compilation of the 20th century’s 100 most influential people. After Sinatra’s death, American music critic Robert Christgau called him “the greatest singer of the 20th century”, and he continues to be seen as an iconic figure.
Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915, in an upstairs tenement at 415 Monroe Street in Hoboken, New Jersey, the only child of Italian immigrants Natalina “Dolly” Garaventa and Antonino Martino “Marty” Sinatra. Sinatra weighed 13.5 pounds (6.1 kg) at birth and had to be delivered with the aid of forceps, which caused severe scarring to his left cheek, neck, and ear, and perforated his eardrum—damage that remained for life. Due to his injuries at birth, his baptism at St. Francis Church in Hoboken was delayed until April 2, 1916. A childhood operation on his mastoid bone left major scarring on his neck, and during adolescence he suffered from cystic acne that further scarred his face and neck. Sinatra was raised in the Roman Catholic church.
Sinatra’s mother was energetic and driven, and biographers believe that she was the dominant factor in the development of her son’s personality traits and self-confidence. Sinatra’s fourth wife Barbara would later claim that Dolly was abusive to him as a child, and “knocked him around a lot”. Dolly became influential in Hoboken and in local Democratic Party circles. She worked as a midwife, earning $50 for each delivery, and according to Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley, also ran an illegal abortion service that catered to Italian Catholic girls, for which she was nicknamed “Hatpin Dolly”. She also had a gift for languages and served as a local interpreter.
Sinatra’s illiterate father was a bantamweight boxer who fought under the name Marty O’Brien. He later worked for 24 years at the Hoboken Fire Department, working his way up to captain. Sinatra spent much time at his parents’ tavern in Hoboken, working on his homework and occasionally singing a song on top of the player piano for spare change. During the Great Depression, Dolly provided money to her son for outings with friends and to buy expensive clothes, resulting in neighbors describing him as the “best-dressed kid in the neighborhood”. Excessively thin and small as a child and young man, Sinatra’s skinny frame later became a staple of jokes during stage shows.
Sinatra developed an interest in music, particularly big band jazz, at a young age. He listened to Gene Austin, Rudy Vallée, Russ Colombo, and Bob Eberly, and idolized Bing Crosby. Sinatra’s maternal uncle, Domenico, gave him a ukulele for his 15th birthday, and he began performing at family gatherings. Sinatra attended David E. Rue Jr. High School from 1928, and A. J. Demarest High School (since renamed as Hoboken High School) in 1931, where he arranged bands for school dances. He left without graduating, having attended only 47 days before being expelled for “general rowdiness”. To please his mother, he enrolled at Drake Business School, but departed after 11 months. Dolly found Sinatra work as a delivery boy at the Jersey Observer newspaper, where his godfather Frank Garrick worked, and after that, Sinatra was a riveter at the Tietjen and Lang shipyard. He performed in local Hoboken social clubs such as The Cat’s Meow and The Comedy Club, and sang for free on radio stations such as WAAT in Jersey City. In New York, Sinatra found jobs singing for his supper or for cigarettes. To improve his speech, he began taking elocution lessons for a dollar each from vocal coach John Quinlan, who was one of the first people to notice his impressive vocal range.
Television and radio career
After beginning on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show with the Hoboken Four in 1935, and later WNEW and WAAT in Jersey City, Sinatra became the star of radio shows of his own on NBC and CBS from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s. In 1942, Sinatra hired arranger Axel Stordahl away from Tommy Dorsey before he began his first radio program that year, keeping Stordahl with him for all of his radio work. By the end of 1942, he was named the “Most Popular Male Vocalist on Radio” in a DownBeat poll. Early on he frequently worked with The Andrews Sisters on radio, and they would appear as guests on each other’s shows, as well as on many USO shows broadcast to troops via the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). He appeared as a special guest in the sisters’ ABC Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch series, while the trio in turn guested on his Songs by Sinatra series on CBS. Sinatra had two stints as a regular member of cast of Your Hit Parade; his first was from 1943 to 1945, and second was from 1946 to May 28, 1949, during which he was paired with the then-new girl singer, Doris Day. Starting in September 1949, the BBD&O advertising agency produced a radio series starring Sinatra for Lucky Strike called Light Up Time – some 176 15-minute shows which featured Frank and Dorothy Kirsten singing – which lasted through to May 1950.
In October 1951, the second season of The Frank Sinatra Show began on CBS Television. Ultimately, Sinatra did not find the success on television for which he had hoped. Santopietro writes that Sinatra “simply never appeared fully at ease on his own television series, his edgy, impatient personality conveying a pent up energy on the verge of exploding”. In 1953, Sinatra starred in the NBC radio program Rocky Fortune, portraying Rocco Fortunato (a.k.a. Rocky Fortune), a “footloose and fancy free” temporary worker for the Gridley Employment Agency who stumbles into crime-solving. The series aired on NBC radio Tuesday nights from October 1953 to March 1954.
In 1957, Sinatra formed a three-year $3 million contract with ABC to launch The Frank Sinatra Show, featuring himself and guests in 36 half hour shows. ABC agreed to allow Sinatra’s Hobart Productions to keep 60% of the residuals, and bought stock in Sinatra’s film production unit, Kent Productions, guaranteeing him $7 million. Though an initial critical success upon its debut on October 18, 1957, it soon attracted negative reviews from Variety and The New Republic, and The Chicago Sun-Times thought that Sinatra and frequent guest Dean Martin “performed like a pair of adult delinquents”, “sharing the same cigarette and leering at girls”. In return, Sinatra later made numerous appearances on The Dean Martin Show and Martin’s TV specials.
Sinatra’s fourth and final Timex TV special, Welcome Home Elvis, was broadcast in March 1960, earning massive viewing figures. During the show, he performed a duet with Presley, who sang Sinatra’s 1957 hit “Witchcraft” with the host performing the 1956 Presley classic “Love Me Tender”. Sinatra had previously been highly critical of Elvis Presley and rock and roll in the 1950s, describing it as a “deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac” which “fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.” A CBS News special about the singer’s 50th birthday, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, was broadcast on November 16, 1965, and garnered both an Emmy award and a Peabody Award.
According his musical collaboration with Jobim and Ella Fitzgerald in 1967, Sinatra appeared in the TV special, A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim, which was broadcast on CBS on November 13. When Sinatra came out of retirement in 1973, he released both an album and appeared in a TV special named Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. The TV special was highlighted by a dramatic reading of “Send in the Clowns” and a song-and-dance sequence with former co-star Gene Kelly. In the late 1970s, John Denver appeared as a guest in the Sinatra and Friends ABC-TV Special, singing “September Song” as a duet.
Sinatra starred as a detective in Contract on Cherry Street (1977), cited as his “one starring role in a dramatic television film”. Ten years later, he made a guest appearance opposite Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., playing a retired policeman who teams up with Selleck to find his granddaughter’s murderer. Shot in January 1987, the episode aired on CBS on February 25.
Sinatra had three children, Nancy (born 1940), Frank Jr. (1944–2016), and Tina (born 1948) with his first wife, Nancy Sinatra (née Barbato; March 25, 1917 – July 13, 2018), to whom he was married from 1939 to 1951.
Sinatra had met Barbato in Long Branch, New Jersey in the late 1930s, where he spent most of the summer working as a lifeguard. He agreed to marry her after an incident at “The Rustic Cabin” which led to his arrest. Sinatra had numerous extramarital affairs, and gossip magazines published details of affairs with women including Marilyn Maxwell, Lana Turner, and Joi Lansing.
Sinatra was married to Hollywood actress Ava Gardner from 1951 to 1957. It was a turbulent marriage with many well-publicized fights and altercations. The couple formally announced their separation on October 29, 1953, through MGM. Gardner filed for divorce in June 1954, at a time when she was dating matador Luis Miguel Dominguín, but the divorce was not settled until 1957. Sinatra continued to feel very strongly for her,and they remained friends for life. He was still dealing with her finances in 1976.
Sinatra reportedly broke off engagements to Lauren Bacall in 1958 and Juliet Prowse in 1962. He married Mia Farrow on July 19, 1966, a short marriage that ended with divorce in Mexico in August 1968. They remained close friends for life, and in a 2013 interview Farrow said that Sinatra might be the father of her son Ronan Farrow (born 1987). In a 2015 CBS Sunday Morning interview, Nancy Sinatra dismissed the claim as “nonsense”.
Sinatra was married to Barbara Marx from 1976 until his death.The couple married on July 11, 1976, at Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage, California, the estate of media magnate Walter Annenberg.
Sinatra was close friends with Jilly Rizzo,songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen, golfer Ken Venturi, comedian Pat Henry and baseball manager Leo Durocher.In his spare time, he enjoyed listening to classical music and attended concerts when he could.He swam daily in the Pacific Ocean, finding it to be therapeutic and giving him much-needed solitude.He often played golf with Venturi at the course in Palm Springs, where he lived, and liked painting, reading, and building model railways.
Though Sinatra was critical of the church on numerous occasions and had a pantheistic, Einstein-like view of God in his earlier life, he turned to Roman Catholicism for healing after his mother died in a plane crash in 1977. He died as a practicing Catholic and had a Catholic burial.
Style and personality
Sinatra was known for his immaculate sense of style. He spent lavishly on expensive custom-tailored tuxedos and stylish pin-striped suits, which made him feel wealthy and important, and that he was giving his very best to the audience. He was also obsessed with cleanliness—while with the Tommy Dorsey band he developed the nickname “Lady Macbeth”, because of frequent showering and switching his outfits. His deep blue eyes earned him the popular nickname “Ol’ Blue Eyes”.
For Santopietro, Sinatra was the personification of America in the 1950s: “cocky, eye on the main chance, optimistic, and full of the sense of possibility”. Barbara Sinatra wrote, “A big part of Frank’s thrill was the sense of danger that he exuded, an underlying, ever-present tension only those closest to him knew could be defused with humor”. Cary Grant, a friend of Sinatra’s, stated that Sinatra was the “most honest person he’d ever met”, who spoke “a simple truth, without artifice which scared people”, and was often moved to tears by his performances. Jo-Caroll Dennison commented that he possessed “great inner strength”, and that his energy and drive were “enormous”. A workaholic, he reportedly only slept four hours a night on average. Throughout his life, Sinatra had mood swings and bouts of mild to severe depression, stating to an interviewer in the 1950s that “I have an over-acute capacity for sadness as well as elation”. Barbara Sinatra stated that he would “snap at anyone for the slightest misdemeanor”, while Van Heusen said that when Sinatra got drunk it was “best to disappear”.
Sinatra’s mood swings often developed into violence, directed at people he felt had crossed him, particularly journalists who gave him scathing reviews, publicists, and photographers. According to Rojek he was “capable of deeply offensive behavior that smacked of a persecution complex”. He received negative press for fights with Lee Mortimer in 1947, photographer Eddie Schisser in Houston in 1950, Judy Garland’s publicist Jim Byron on the Sunset Strip in 1954, and for a confrontation with Washington Post journalist Maxine Cheshire in 1973, in which he implied that she was a cheap prostitute.
His feud with then-Chicago Sun Times columnist Mike Royko began when Royko wrote a column questioning why Chicago police offered free protection to Sinatra when the singer had his own security. Sinatra fired off an angry letter in response calling Royko a “pimp”, and threatening to “punch you in the mouth” for speculating that he wore a toupée. Royko auctioned the letter, the proceeds going to the Salvation Army. The winner of the auction was Vie Carlson, mother of Bun E. Carlos of the rock group Cheap Trick. After appearing on Antiques Roadshow, Carlson consigned the letter to Freeman’s Auctioneers & Appraisers, which auctioned it in 2010.
Sinatra was also known for his generosity, particularly after his comeback. Kelley notes that when Lee J. Cobb nearly died from a heart attack in June 1955, Sinatra flooded him with “books, flowers, delicacies”, paid his hospital bills, and visited him daily, telling him that his “finest acting” was yet to come. In another instance, after an argument with manager Bobby Burns, rather than apologize, Sinatra bought him a brand new Cadillac.
LATER LIFE AND DEATH
Sinatra died with his wife at his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998, aged 82, after a heart attack. Sinatra was in ill health during the last few years of his life, and was frequently hospitalized for heart and breathing problems, high blood pressure, pneumonia and bladder cancer. He was further diagnosed as having dementia. He had made no public appearances following a heart attack in February 1997. Sinatra’s wife encouraged him to “fight” while attempts were made to stabilize him, and reported that his final words were, “I’m losing.” Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, later wrote that she and her siblings (Frank, Jr. and Nancy) had not been notified of their father’s final hospitalization, and it was her belief that “the omission was deliberate. Barbara would be the grieving widow alone at her husband’s side.” The night after Sinatra’s death, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue, the lights at the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor, and the casinos stopped spinning for one minute.
Sinatra’s funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California, on May 20, 1998, with 400 mourners in attendance and thousands of fans outside. Gregory Peck, Tony Bennett, and Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., addressed the mourners, who included many notable people from film and entertainment. Sinatra was buried in a blue business suit with mementos from family members—cherry-flavored Life Savers, Tootsie Rolls, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, stuffed toys, a dog biscuit, and a roll of dimes that he always carried—next to his parents in section B-8 of Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.
His close friends Jilly Rizzo and Jimmy Van Heusen are buried nearby. The words “The Best Is Yet to Come”, plus “Beloved Husband & Father” are imprinted on Sinatra’s grave marker. Significant increases in recording sales worldwide were reported by Billboard in the month of his death.
- The Voice of Frank Sinatra (1946)
- Songs by Sinatra (1947)
- Christmas Songs by Sinatra (1948)
- Frankly Sentimental (1949)
- Dedicated to You (1950)
- Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra (1950)
- Songs for Young Lovers (1954)
- Swing Easy! (1954)
- In the Wee Small Hours (1955)
- Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)
- Close to You (1957)
- A Swingin’ Affair! (1957)
- Where Are You? (1957)
- A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957)
- Come Fly with Me (1958)
- Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958)
- Come Dance with Me! (1959)
- No One Cares (1959)
- Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960)
- Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!! (1961)
- Ring-a-Ding-Ding! (1961)
- Come Swing with Me! (1961)
- Swing Along With Me (1961)
- I Remember Tommy (1961)
- Sinatra and Strings (1962)
- Point of No Return (1962)
- Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass (1962)
- All Alone (1962)
- Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain (1962)
- Sinatra–Basie: An Historic Musical First (with Count Basie) (1962)
- The Concert Sinatra (1963)
- Sinatra’s Sinatra (1963)
- Sinatra Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, and Other Academy Award Winners (1964)
- America, I Hear You Singing (with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring) (1964)
- It Might as Well Be Swing (with Count Basie) (1964)
- 12 Songs of Christmas (with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring) (1964)
- Softly, as I Leave You (1964)
- September of My Years (1965)
- My Kind of Broadway (1965)
- A Man and His Music (1965)
- Moonlight Sinatra (1966)
- Strangers in the Night (1966)
- That’s Life (1966)
- Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (with Antonio Carlos Jobim) (1967)
- The World We Knew (1967)
- Francis A. & Edward K. (with Duke Ellington) (1968)
- The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas (with Frank Sinatra, Jr., Nancy Sinatra, and Tina Sinatra) (1968)
- Cycles (1968)
- My Way (1969)
- A Man Alone (1969)
- Watertown (1970)
- Sinatra & Company (with Antonio Carlos Jobim) (1971)
- Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (1973)
- Some Nice Things I’ve Missed (1974)
- Trilogy: Past Present Future (1980)
- She Shot Me Down (1981)
- L.A. Is My Lady (1984)
- Duets (1993)
- Duets II (1994)