Frank Si­na­tra in ex­clu­sive pho­to­graphs

Frank Si­na­tra would have turned 100 on De­cem­ber 12. His wife Bar­bara rem­i­nisces about their life to­gether, and imag­ines the cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions that might have been

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

Frank Si­na­tra would have so en­joyed reach­ing one hun­dred years of age. He’d have found it highly amus­ing to have de­fied the odds and lived so long. The man rightly dubbed “the En­ter­tainer of the Cen­tury” touched the lives of so many peo­ple over the years, and the mu­sic he made has be­come the sound­track to the lives of gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

An ac­tor, di­rec­tor, con­duc­tor, pro­ducer, song­writer and, as he liked to say, saloon singer, Frank was one of the best­selling artists of all time, with more than 150 mil­lion records sold world­wide. He broke box of­fice and Bill­board records well into old age, as the hunger for the spe­cial brand of magic he pos­sessed never di­min­ished.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of fans from around the world first learned to speak English lis­ten­ing to Frank Si­na­tra tunes. When­ever he vis­ited those far-flung coun­tries and took to the stage, he was al­ways moved to tears by the throng of voices that rose as one to join him in a song.

Amaz­ingly, Frank con­tin­ues to reach peo­ple in this cen­tury too, and on the cen­te­nary of his birth that’s some­thing he would have been enor­mously hum­bled by. And oh, what a party he’d have thrown to mark the oc­ca­sion! No­body could throw a party quite like Frank.

There would have been Jack Daniel’s whiskey, mar­ti­nis and cham­pagne flow­ing, all served by white-gloved wait­ers, with the finest Ital­ian food, the best piz­zas and pas­tas, fol­lowed by cheese­cake from New York. Wear­ing an apron, he’d have stood at the stove and made his mother Dolly’s spe­cial tomato “gravy” for the pasta (hold­ing the gar­lic), and en­sured that ev­ery­one’s glass was per­ma­nently topped up.

He’d have made sure there was won­der­ful mu­sic, of course, a full or­ches­tra re­hearsed to per­fec­tion by the per­fec­tion­ist, and — as­sum­ing his friends had made it that far too — there might have been Sammy Cahn or Jimmy Van Heusen on the pi­ano while the likes of Tony Ben­nett, Rose­mary Clooney, or Sammy Davis Jr sang along.

Frank loved to laugh, so co­me­di­ans would have been there in force — peo­ple like Pat Henry, Don Rick­les, Tom Dreesen, and Dean Martin, per­haps the great­est nat­u­ral comic of them all. Our dear friends such as Gre­gory Peck, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, David Niven, Kirk Dou­glas, Henry Kissinger and Ron­ald Rea­gan would have been guests of hon­our, along with fam­ily and other friends.

Frank con­sid­ered pres­i­dents and states­men his bud­dies, as much as his golf­ing part­ners or child­hood friends were. A more dis­parate group of peo­ple you could never have met loung­ing around the pool or play­ing with Frank’s model rail­way set in his ca­bana. Smelling heav­enly of laven­der soap and al­ways in the finest tai­lored suits and cus­tom-made shoes, the in­vet­er­ate ro­man­tic who’d mar­ried me in a mist of white or­chids in 1976 would have found me some thought­ful gift — even though it was his birth­day, not mine. Gen­er­ous to a fault, he loved to give and was never that com­fort­able re­ceiv­ing — un­less you pre­sented him with a dog, of course. Frank adored all an­i­mals but es­pe­cially our beloved dogs. What else do you give the man who had ev­ery­thing?

As Don Rick­les once said, “Frank gets up in the morn­ing and God throws money on him.” I’m not sure about that, but I do know he worked tire­lessly his whole life and that he spent what he earned — mostly on oth­ers. He couldn’t care less about money, and I hon­estly think he planned on spend­ing ev­ery dime he ever made — typ­i­cally, on peo­ple who needed it more than he did.

His tip­ping was leg­endary, as were his anony­mous do­na­tions to char­i­ties and in­di­vid­u­als, as well as the ben­e­fit con­certs that he’d throw at his own ex­pense — for vir­tu­ally any wor­thy cause. Most of all he was gen­er­ous with his love, and boy, did I re­ceive that in buck­et­loads! They ranged from lav­ish gifts to the ro­man­tic lit­tle bil­lets-doux he’d leave me around the house, usu­ally signed “Your Ital­ian Lover”.

And how he loved to mark spe­cial oc­ca­sions in some won­der­ful way — birthdays, an­niver­saries, Valen­tine’s Day, and land­mark dates known only to us. Mr Ro­man­tic was quite a guy to be around. Twenty-four years af­ter we’d first started dat­ing, we were still to­gether, still in

love. Ours was a deep and last­ing love, full of trust and loy­alty.

There is no deny­ing that Fran­cis Al­bert Si­na­tra stole into my heart and changed my life. Over the next three decades, he flew me to the moon and back. Was he easy to live with, or to work with? Not al­ways. Frank could be quite a hand­ful. Was he calm? Rarely. Those of us around him never knew what drama each day might bring. But was it fun? Oh yes — a thou­sand times yes.

I was cer­tainly never bored, and prob­a­bly the bravest thing I ever did dur­ing my mar­riage was to or­gan­ise a sur­prise 65th birth­day party for Frank. The man who so en­joyed spring­ing sur­prises on those he loved did not en­joy be­ing sur­prised in re­turn. In the months lead­ing up to the big day, I asked him if he could have any­thing in the world, what it would be. Af­ter much ca­jol­ing, he even­tu­ally said he’d like a fan­tas­tic jazz or­ches­tra play­ing just for him.

I de­cided to make that the fi­nale to a party thrown in his hon­our, know­ing there was al­ways the risk that he’d walk out. He nearly did, but the sight of all our friends dressed up at a western-style cook­out on our ranch amused him enough to per­suade him to stay. I never made that mis­take again, though.

No, Frank’s 100th birth­day party would have been metic­u­lously planned and or­gan­ised by Ol’ Blue Eyes him­self, I’m cer­tain. He’d have made sure that oth­ers were the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. He would cer­tainly have turned it into a char­ity event, which would have in­cluded the Bar­bara Si­na­tra Chil­dren’s Cen­tre for Vic­tims of Abuse, an or­gan­i­sa­tion for which we broke ground in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Cal­i­for­nia, on his 70th birth­day.

Five years later, Frank cel­e­brated his 75th birth­day by per­form­ing at the Bren­dan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Af­ter the show, I threw a party for him at the Wal­dorf As­to­ria in New York City, with 100 peo­ple at­tend­ing from all over the world.

It was quite the af­fair. Pick­ing up my glass of cham­pagne in a toast, I told him from the heart, “Frank, dar­ling, to the world you’ve given your mu­sic, but to me you have given the world.”

For Frank’s 80th birth­day, the Em­pire State Build­ing in New York was bathed in blue light, and he was the sub­ject of an all-star tele­vised trib­ute, 80 Years My Way, which, of course, he in­sisted be in aid of char­ity.

When he re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion on his ar­rival, he joked that he’d never be­fore re­ceived a round of ap­plause “just for be­ing alive”.

Although he died al­most 20 years ago, Frank will al­ways live on in peo­ple’s hearts. Each year, I visit his desert gravesite on his birth­day, and I am al­ways touched by the gifts left by his de­voted fol­low­ing, in­clud­ing tiny bot­tles of Jack Daniel’s, pack­ets of his favourite Camel cig­a­rettes, candies, posies of flow­ers, and tiny Amer­i­can flags next to his sim­ple gran­ite marker, which reads, “The best is yet to come”. He’d have loved that.

The man with the elec­tri­fy­ing per­son­al­ity said once that he wanted to be re­mem­bered as some­one who had a won­der­ful time liv­ing life. Well, I am among many thou­sands who can vouch that he did just that.

When he first re­tired from per­form­ing in 1971, be­fore his tri­umphant later come­back, he thought long and hard about what song he’d like to go out on. He chose An­gel Eyes.

A man who loved words, he se­lected it for the lyrics, which seem ever more ap­pro­pri­ate as we mark the one hun­dredth an­niver­sary of his birth. The mes­sage he so liked in this song gave him a chance to tell his fans to en­joy their lives and have fun, as the drinks and the jokes were on him.

Happy birth­day, Frank.

This is Bar­bara Si­na­tra’s in­tro­duc­tion to Si­na­tra: The Pho­to­graphs by An­drew How­ick (pub­lished by Abrams, $60).

Frank Si­na­tra and Dean Martin in a TV record­ing stu­dio for The Judy

Gar­land Show in 1962, top; Si­na­tra with his wife Bar­bara at the 1977 World Se­ries, above; Sammy Davis Jr, Martin, Si­na­tra and Joey Bishop stage a punch-up on the set of

Ocean’s Eleven in 1960, left; the singer dis­plays his sense of hu­mour in the early 1960s, right

ALL PIC­TURES FROM SI­NA­TRA: THE PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY AN­DREW HOW­ICK

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