In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Ol’ Blue Eyes and his Ladies!
Frances Albert Sinatra was probably, in the view of many, and certainly, in my opinion, simply the best popular vocalist of all time.
He made around 1400 recordings in his lifetime and to many, especially of my generation, he was the voice they listened to as they were growing up and falling in love.
In addition to his singing, Sinatra was a very fine actor when he turned his mind to it, and in ‘From here to Eternity’ in 1953, he turned his mind to it sufficiently well to win an Oscar. He also appeared in 58 other films.
Growing up in an Italian ghetto in New York, Frank was on first name terms with many members of the American Mafia, although allegations of his active involvements with those folks were often rumoured, they have never been proven.
One thing is certain, however, Sinatra was fond of the ladies. In these days of alternatives, I regard that as a virtue.
Frank was born in 1915 in Hoboken, an Italian migrant area in New York City. His family was from Italy; his father a Sicilian. At birth Frank weighed thirteen and a half pounds. As his mother, Dolly, was a smallish woman, that must have stung a bit. The child appeared lifeless and was ignored by the midwife to attend to his mother. Frank’s grandmother held the apparently dead baby under a cold water tap and the voice which would become famous sounded for the first time.
In 1917, Nancy Barbato was born not far away from where Frankie was growing up. Her parents were also Italians. In 1939 the couple married.
About the same time Frank signed for band leader Harry James and later moved to front the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. This enabled his career to take off. In the middle forties the Sinatras, now including baby Frank, moved to Hollywood. That move enabled the singer to become world famous. However, Hollywood was full of girls, many of them very beautiful and often eager to be seen on the arms of rising stars.
Frankie was tempted and strayed. Strayed more that once and the birth of Nancy junior in 1944 and Tina in 1948 did little to make his marriage stronger. Incidentally, the song ‘Nancy with her laughing face’ was written about his daughter and not his wife, the only song that Frank had a hand in writing. Incidentally again, Nancy senior is still with us, aged 98.
In 1950 Francis fell hopelessly in love with Ava Gardner, a famous actress and one of the most beautiful women in the world.
At the time of their marriage Frank’s career was on the slide while Ava was at the peak of her fame. It was a stormy coupling, to put it at its mildest and the marriage in 1951 ended in 1957 in acrimonious divorce. Many do, I have found. Sadly, for Frank, Ava remained ‘l’amour de sa vie’. I know how you feel babe.
In the early 1950’s, during his time with Ava, Frank moved record labels from Columbia to Capitol. In Capitol he teamed up with a number of excellent band leaders and musical directors like Don Costa, Billy May and primarily Nelson Riddle, whose centenary is celebrated this year.
Together they produced a series of superb albums, in many of which Sinatra opened his tormented soul to the lyrics as in ‘I’m a fool to want you’, and ‘One for the road’.
My friend, Sally, describes his recordings in this period as ‘cut your throat’ music, and I fear she is right. But, late at night, sitting alone with a whiskey in your hand, they seem appropriate.
Ava Gardener subsequently moved to London and one day in the eighties my wife and I saw her shopping in Kensington. By this time Ava was slipping into the half world of dementia and she died in 1990.
After his divorce from Ava Gardener, Sinatra spent time with many Hollywood actresses, including Shirley MacLean, Juliet Prowse and Lauren Bacall, to whom he was engaged. It is said that he also squired Marylyn Monroe and asked her to marry him. She declined which some consider a very lucky break for old blue eyes.
Instead he had a short marriage in 1966 to Mia Farrow who was 23 and Frank 51 at the time. The union failed in 1968.
His next marriage was his last, to Barbara Marx in 1976. They remained married until his death in 1998. Considering the life he led, including smoking cigarettes and plenty of booze, the boy did well to reach 82 years of age.
Frank is survived by his three children, Nancy junior, Frank junior and Tina. Frank junior tried to follow his father as a pop singer but found it too high a mountain to conquer. Nancy junior was more successful with hits like ‘These boots are made for walking’ and ‘Something stupid’ a number one hit with her dad.
Nancy, Mia and Barbara all survive as ladies who were once known as Mrs Frank Sinatra. I believe that, in the eyes of most Sinatra aficionados, Nancy remains the most loved wife and Barbara the least.
Frank was once asked, ‘Where are the most beautiful women in the world?’ His reply, after a few moments thought, was ‘where ever you happen to be at the time.’
Amen to that, I say.
Written by BM