Frank Si­na­tra

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 - AMANDA HODGES

Writer F. Scott Fitzger­ald once said that “there are no sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can lives” but he clearly reck­oned with­out the in­domitable will of one Fran­cis Al­bert Si­na­tra. It was 25th March 1954 at the Academy Awards and Frank Si­na­tra had just, against all the odds, scooped the Os­car for Best Ac­tor in a Sup­port­ing Role for his mem­o­rable per­for­mance as Pri­vate Angelo Mag­gio in From Here to Eter­nity.

Just one year ear­lier Si­na­tra’s en­tire life had been on a down­ward spiral that was swiftly ac­cel­er­at­ing. Dropped by his record la­bel af­ter a vo­cal cord in­jury dam­aged his voice, pub­licly tar­nished by a tu­mul­tuous pri­vate life that in­volved a siz­zling af­fair with Ava Gard­ner and deemed a box- of­fice fail­ure af­ter a string of un­suc­cess­ful films he seemed to be head­ing, if not for obliv­ion, then cer­tainly for ca­reer medi­ocrity as he made a liv­ing per­form­ing at smallscale en­gage­ments na­tion­wide. The man who had once been the idol of the bobby- sox­ers was des­per­ate for a chance to re­deem him­self. Si­na­tra may have lacked many things at this pe­riod in his life but con­fi­dence in his own abil­ity was not amongst them. “The big les­son in life, baby, is never be scared of any­one or any­thing,” he once re­marked and it’s a creed which he cer­tainly put into prac­tice.

Re­demp­tion came in the shape of James Jones’s war novel which he heard about whilst ac­com­pa­ny­ing then- wife Gard­ner on lo­ca­tion for Mogambo ( 1953). Touted as a po­ten­tial film pro­ject Si­na­tra had read the book and closely iden­ti­fied with the char­ac­ter of Angelo

Mag­gio, a wise­crack­ing army pri­vate tar­geted for per­se­cu­tion by a sadis­tic sergeant played by Ernest Borg­nine. No one wanted him for the role though and so he be­gan an in­ten­sive charm of­fen­sive, get­ting Gard­ner to put in a good word for him and vol­un­teer­ing to take the part for the nom­i­nal pay­ment of just $ 8,000. His per­sis­tence ( and suit­ably scrawny physique) even­tu­ally paid off and, with act­ing coach­ing from lead­ing man Mont­gomery Clift, Si­na­tra gave one of the finest per­for­mances of his ca­reer.

“The best re­venge is mas­sive suc­cess” Si­na­tra once said and noth­ing epit­o­mised this more than his Os­car tri­umph of 1954, a mo­ment that Amer­i­can trade mag­a­zine Va­ri­ety called noth­ing less than “the great­est come­back in show busi­ness his­tory.” Like the myth­i­cal phoenix from the ashes he had van­quished all those who had doubted his abil­ity and the mo­ment was one to savour. Ahead lay what would be­come one of the most pro­fes­sion­ally fruit­ful decades of his life and it her­alded a com­pletely re­vi­talised film ca­reer which would ef­fec­tively al­low him to call the shots un­til he left films be­hind in 1980.

But how had Si­na­tra, a sin­gu­larly gifted singer and peer­less en­ter­tainer, first be­gun an act­ing ca­reer? Well, he was al­ways in­tensely am­bi­tious and re­alised from an early age that be­ing in films would sig­nif­i­cantly boost his rep­u­ta­tion as a global su­per­star. He’d ini­tially made his name as a big band singer with the Harry

James band in 1939, sub­se­quently work­ing with Tommy Dorsey and then branched out to es­tab­lish him­self as a very suc­cess­ful solo per­former, al­low­ing Hol­ly­wood to cap­i­talise upon his singing star­dom with mu­si­cal roles which were en­joy­able if not par­tic­u­larly oner­ous.

His film de­but was Higher and Higher ( 1943) in which he es­sen­tially played him­self and he’d then ( with the ex­cep­tion of 1945’ s ten- minute short The House I Live In, a plea for racial har­mony) been cast in a suc­ces­sion of RKO and MGM mu­si­cals — the best of which was On The Town ( 1949) with Gene Kelly — cap­i­tal­is­ing on his sta­tus as a mu­si­cal heart- throb but of­fer­ing noth­ing de­signed to give him proper cre­den­tials as a se­ri­ous ac­tor.

From Here to Eter­nity rad­i­cally trans­formed this, giv­ing him ac­cess to chal­leng­ing projects he could only have dreamed about be­fore­hand. Firmly ex­pand­ing upon his Os­car suc­cess Si­na­tra next tack­led a dark role as a pres­i­den­tial as­sas­sin in 1954’ s Sud­denly and then tried even murkier ter­ri­tory with The Man with the Golden Arm ( 1955), a con­tro­ver­sial film which delved into the world of

heroin ad­dic­tion and earned him an­other Os­car nom­i­na­tion as a re­formed ad­dict try­ing to make it as a jazz drum­mer.

From 1956 to 1962 Si­na­tra was one of the top box- of­fice stars in Amer­ica, cre­at­ing an in­deli­ble screen per­sona, one that of­ten oozed swag­ger for sure but con­cealed con­sid­er­able vul­ner­a­bil­ity too. His best roles would al­ways be those that tapped into his own com­pli­cated and in­tensely volatile tem­per­a­ment. He could com­pletely con­vince as a trou­bled out­sider, a man grap­pling with po­ten­tial fail­ure, dis­ap­point­ment or all- con­sum­ing frus­tra­tion be­cause, de­spite his phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess, he was still es­sen­tially the Ital­ian- Amer­i­can boy from Hobo­ken, New Jersey, who felt marginalised and who could pro­ject these feel­ings of alien­ation most per­sua­sively.

In the next decade suc­cess al­lowed Si­na­tra to wisely al­ter­nate lighter ve­hi­cles like Pal Joey ( 1957) or the de­light­ful High So­ci­ety ( 1956), in which he hap­pily shared screen time with his child­hood idol Bing Crosby, and the en­chant­ing Young at Heart ( 1954) with meatier fare like Some Came Run­ning ( 1958) and per­haps best of all The Manchurian Can­di­date ( 1962), a su­perb and en­dur­ing Cold War thriller in which he played a brain­washed ma­jor to chill­ing and su­perla­tive ef­fect. As his mu­si­cal ca­reer at Capi­tol blos­somed in a new di­rec­tion un­der the guid­ance of ar­ranger Nel­son Rid­dle so he built

a par­al­lel screen ca­reer that re­flected the more re­flec­tive mood of his in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated al­bums.

De­spite the gloss it lent his ca­reer Si­na­tra loathed the long de­lays on a film set and dis­liked re­hears­ing, in­fa­mous for his abil­ity to be pitch- per­fect on one take and im­pa­tient of those like Mar­lon Brando whose more la­bo­ri­ous Method act­ing re­quir­ing mul­ti­ple takes forced Si­na­tra to eat co­pi­ous pieces of cheese­cake when film­ing Guys and Dolls ( 1955), some­thing which trig­gered one of the singer’s no­to­ri­ous out­bursts.

Si­na­tra was a larger- than- life char­ac­ter in all re­spects and it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to dis­cern the real man’s char­ac­ter from the many ru­mours sur­round­ing him. What­ever his mix of com­bustible qual­i­ties, his lib­eral cre­den­tials, evinced by his sup­port of the Civil Rights Move­ment and his gen­eros­ity were rarely in doubt. Ac­tor David Niven paid trib­ute to the man’s es­sen­tial hu­man­ity when he once com­mented “so much has been writ­ten of Si­na­tra that I can con­trib­ute noth­ing ex­cept to say he is one of the few peo­ple in the world I would in­stinc­tively think of if I needed help of any sort. I thought of him once when in a bad spot; help was pro­vided in­stantly.”

Later in his ca­reer Si­na­tra’s time at the fore­front of the Rat Pack led to amus­ing if self- in­dul­gent ca­pers like 1960’ s Oceans Eleven, then fol­lowed ur­bane de­tec­tive roles with his film ca­reer even­tu­ally ta­per­ing off with a part in 1980 as a con­flicted po­lice­man in The First Deadly Sin. Con­sid­er­ing that he’d been ef­fec­tively writ­ten- off as fin­ished 27 years ear­lier his screen roles rep­re­sented an im­pres­sive body of work and one which en­hanced the rep­u­ta­tion of “The Voice” as an ac­tor of sig­nif­i­cant stature.

Frank Si­na­tra’s film ca­reer was re­vived by his role in From Here to Eter­nity for which he won an Os­car ( be­low).

In the 1955 film ver­sion of Guys and Dolls Si­na­tra played Nathan Detroit.

The won­der­ful High So­ci­ety was re­leased in 1956 and brought to­gether a host of Hol­ly­wood stars.

One of Frank’s early film roles was along­side Gene Kelly in An­chors Aweigh ( 1945).

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