Frank Sinatra Profile
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey on December 12, 1915, Frank Sinatra was raised in a rough neighborhood, and the skinny kid needed every scrap of his trademark pugnacity to get by. As a teenager, he performed odd jobs for the local newspaper, and his early ambitions leaned toward sports writing. His love of song eventually won out; organizing a quartet dubbed the "Hoboken Four," he swung a 1935 radio appearance on the then-popular "Major Bowes' Amateur Hour," drawing a then-record response of 40,000 callers.
The "Hoboken Four" soon went their separate ways, but the determined Sinatra plugged away as a singing waiter; by early 1939, he married childhood sweetheart Nancy Barbato. Within months, he had received an offer from Benny Goodman sideman Harry James, who was ready to put together his own orchestra and knew he had found his vocalist. Within six months, Frank had taken a better offer from Tommy Dorsey, and the collaboration resulted in a string of hit singles.
By 1941, Frank had made his first screen appearance, as the Dorsey Orchestra provided musical support in Las Vegas Nights (1941). As 1943 dawned, he parted ways with Dorsey and embarked on a solo career, signing a deal with Columbia Records. The following year, he received his first acting opportunity with a tailored role in the light RKO musical Higher and Higher (1944). As the '40s wore on, he became one of the most recognized and frequently caricatured figures in American show business, depicted as leaving hordes of swooning bobbysoxers in his wake. Beyond the chartbusting record sales and concert receipts that he enjoyed, Sinatra graced a broad range of the best-loved RKO and MGM musicals produced during the period (Step Lively (1943), Anchors Aweigh (1945), It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), On the Town (1949)).
With the dawn of the '50s, however, Frank entered the bleakest period of his personal and professional life. He had divorced Nancy in 1951 to take up a tumultuous union with screen beauty Ava Gardner; they would split within two years, and ultimately divorce in 1957. Filmgoers responded indifferently to Double Dynamite (1951) and Meet Danny Wilson (1952). Worse, after suffering a hemorrhage of his vocal chords in 1952, he was summarily dropped by his label and agent. He begged for the opportunity to play the doomed Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953), and agreed to a payday of a mere $8000. The gamble paid off with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® and a resuscitation of his career.
Armed with a recovered voice, a new record deal and credibility as a serious actor, Sinatra parlayed this second chance into career security. His matured vocal stylings found a fit with the high-fidelity recording era. He acquired an ownership percentage in the Sands Hotel in Vegas, becoming a local icon while reaping enormous benefits. Further, his schedule in Hollywood was never busier, as he divided his time between frothy musicals (Guys and Dolls(1955), The Tender Trap (1955), High Society (1956), Pal Joey (1957)) and projects that let him show off his acting chops (Suddenly (1954), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), The Pride and the Passion (1957), Kings Go Forth (1958), Some Came Running (1958)).
In the early '60s, Sinatra and the members of his Hollywood "Rat Pack"-Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford-were favorites of the Kennedy White House, and were enjoying themselves in vehicles like Ocean's Eleven (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), 4 For Texas (1963) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Frank remained active in film for the balance of the '60s, most notably in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Von Ryan's Express (1965). In 1966, he embarked on a two-year marriage to the much younger Mia Farrow. A year after wrapping the western Dirty Dingus Magee (1970), the Chairman made the announcement that he was retiring from show business.
He meant it - at least a little while. By 1973, he was back in the recording studio and touring in concert. 1976 brought him the most successful domestic union he'd ever know with Barbara Marx, ex-wife of Zeppo Marx. While now squarely back in public life, Sinatra would only make one more dramatic appearance onscreen, with the crime melodrama, The First Deadly Sin (1980). As the '80s wore on, he continued to perform to packed houses; while his range was no longer what it was, throngs of adoring fans didn't seem to care.
His reservoir of energy took him into the 1990s, as he joined a slate of contemporary pop singers for a pair of best-selling "Duets" albums that would bring him his tenth and last career Grammy Award at age 80. The Voice was finally stilled on May 14, 1998, as Sinatra was stricken by an acute heart attack. But so long as sound recording endures, generations will enjoy the soulful stylings of the kid from Hoboken who ascended to the top of the heap.
by Jay S. Steinberg