The Life of Frank Sinatra, Part 2
Originally Written and Compiled by: Gary Cadwallader for Seaside Music Theatre With special thanks to MaryAnn Eifert for research materials.
On December 30, 1942, Sinatra, on his own, made his debut at The Paramount. After being introduced by Jack Benny, Sinatra walked onto the stage to something popular music had never heard before: screaming and yelling. Here is what Sinatra said of opening night: "The sound that greeted me was absolutely deafening. It was a tremendous roar. Five thousand kids, stamping, yelling, screaming, applauding. I was scared stiff. I couldn't move a muscle. Benny Goodman froze, too. He was so scared he turned around, looked at the audience and said, 'What the hell is that?' I burst out laughing."
Sinatra played the Paramount for almost four solid weeks, first with Goodman and then with an orchestra led by Johnny Long. The screaming girls were known as "bobby-soxers," from the popular youth style of wearing short (usually white) socks, rolled down, and saddle oxford shoes.
E. J. Khan wrote in The New Yorker magazine: "Girls have plucked hairs from his head and, at somewhat less trouble to him, have collected clippings of his hair from the floors of barbershops. One Sinatra fan carries around in a locket what she insists is a Sinatra hangnailŠ'I shiver all the way up and down my spine when you sing,' a girl wrote Sinatra, 'just like I did when I had scarlet fever.' 'After the fourth time I fell out of a chair and bumped my head,' said another, 'I decided to sit on the floor in the beginning when I listen to you.'"
While Sinatra was singing for the young girls in New York, the American soldiers fighting overseas in World War II became angry that their girlfriends and fiancées were focusing their attentions and emotions on the young, skinny entertainer who wore floppy bow ties. Sinatra's 4-F status (ear trouble from birth) didn't help the matter any and soldiers on leave took to throwing tomatoes at Sinatra's picture on the theater marquee. Some believed Sinatra was the most hated man of World War II, more than Hitler.
While millions joined Sinatra fan clubs around the country, Sinatra recorded records and made two films in Hollywood: Reveille With Beverly starring Ann Miller, Duke Ellington's Orchestra and Count Basie's Orchestra, in which he appeared singing only one song, "Night And Day," and Higher And Higher starring Michele Morgan and Jack Haley for which he received his first good acting review.
Throughout the 1940's, Sinatra kept a very busy schedule. He performed in concert around the world (including one crazed show at The Paramount that was called the "Columbus Day Riot"), created a nightclub act, signed with Columbia Records in 1943, and made several films, most notably Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson, in which he sang, danced and acted to great acclaim. The critic at the Motion Picture Herald wrote: "All the world knows Frank Sinatra can sing; now it turns out that he can act, too. His characterization of Kelly's shipmate is a delight."
Other films from the 1940's include Step Lively (1944) with George Murphy and Adolphe Menjou, Till The Clouds Roll By (1946), with Lena Horne and Van Johnson, It Happened In Brooklyn (1947) with Jimmy Durante and Peter Lawford, The Miracle of The Bells (1948) with Fred MacMurray and Lee J. Cobb, Take Me Out To The Ballgame (1948) with Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, and On The Town (1949) with Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, and Betty Garrett.
Frank also had two more children: Frank, Jr. in 1944, and Christina in 1948. Though the press painted Frank and Nancy as happily married, the love affair had ended. Frank and Nancy separated in 1950 and almost two years later, after the divorce was final, Sinatra wed superstar actress Ava Gardner (1922-1990). Their romance was torrid and tempestuous, and they were known for their passionate, public fights.
The early 1950's were a very low time for Sinatra, both privately and professionally. The ups and downs in his marriage to Gardner were big news in all the national magazines and newspapers, and his fans were no longer buying his records, going to his concerts, or watching his movies. Because of this downturn in popularity, both M-G-M Studios and Columbia Records dropped Sinatra.
But Sinatra's star began to shine again as he signed on to Capitol Records in 1953 and fought hard for the role of Maggio in the film From Here To Eternity. Sinatra had lost clout in Hollywood and the producer of From Here To Eternity didn't want Sinatra for the role of the skinny Italian soldier. With his wife's help, Sinatra did whatever he could to get the role, and when his final competition for the role, Eli Wallach (b. 1915) demanded too much money, the role went to Sinatra. The film, which takes place in Hawaii in the days just before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, became an enormous critical and audience favorite. Sinatra won praise for his role of the murdered Maggio and at the 1954 Academy Awards, he claimed an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. His movie career was rekindled and his acting capabilities were no longer questioned.
His recording career was also on the upswing. At Capitol Records Sinatra began working with orchestrator and arranger Nelson Riddle (1921-1987), who gave Sinatra a lusher, more sophisticated sound. Riddle and Sinatra helped develop the popularity of the LP, or long playing record, which was new technology at the time (most recordings were 78 rpm, meaning a released "collection" of songs included about 8 or 10 records instead of 1 LP). Sinatra's first record at Capitol, 1953's Swing Easy, was a huge success, and more success followed with Songs For Young Lovers (1954), In The Wee Small Hours (1955), and Songs For Swingin' Lovers (1956).
It was during these successful years that Sinatra started singing in Las Vegas casinos. Las Vegas was a small, sleepy desert community when the Sands Hotel went up in 1952. The hotel was a huge success and more casinos followed. Entertainers were paid handsome sums to sing in the casino's showrooms and with thousands of tourists flocking to the desert, a built-in audience was assured. Other performers who flourished in Las Vegas included singer and actor Dean Martin (1917-1995), vaudeville star, dancer, singer and actor Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990), film actor (and future brother-in-law to President Kennedy) Peter Lawford (1923-1984), and comedian/actor Joey Bishop (b. 1918). They would eventually get together to take Las Vegas and Hollywood by storm.
Following From Here To Eternity, other movie successes followed, including: Young At Heart (1955) with Doris Day and Gig Young, The Tender Trap (1955) with Debbie Reynolds and Celeste Holm, Guys And Dolls (1955) with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, and two critical successes, The Man With The Golden Arm (1955) about a man with a terrible heroine addiction, and High Society (1956), the Cole Porter musical gem. High Society, based on Phillip Barry's The Philadelphia Story, gave Sinatra an opportunity to work with his longtime idol Bing Crosby, and the beautiful Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who would become a life-long best friend.
In 1957 Sinatra's marriage to Ava Gardner ended in divorce after three years separation. Single, Sinatra decided to live the high life and in the late 1950's and early 1960's decided to make Las Vegas more or less his permanent home. Always dreaming of owning his own record company, Sinatra's dream was almost a reality. His place of prestige in show business was about to grow larger and even more illustrious.