Excerpt: Sinatra: Behind the Legend by J. Randy Taraborelli
Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 in 2015. J. Randy Taraborelli’s bestselling biography delves into the private life of an icon.
Taraborrelli's bestselling Sinatra: Behind the Legend, originally published in 1997, fascinated audiences with his detailed and revealing examination of the life of an icon through six years of research and over 425 interviews with associates, friends and lovers.
Now, Taraborrelli is back with a completely new and updated edition. Fans of Ol’ Blue Eyes—young and old—can now fully appreciate the life and controversy of a musician whose career spanned decades.
From show business, struggles with depression, his many romances and a desire to fulfill the American dream, Sinatra's life story presents a definitive portrait of the legend for a new age.
In March 1962, while Frank was making another appearance at the Fontainebleau in Miami (where he would be joined by the Summit during the last three nights), he taped a television special for ABC—his fourth and last for the sponsor, Timex—with guests Sammy Davis, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, daughter Nancy Sinatra, and special guest Elvis Presley, who had just returned to civilian life after two years in the army. In fact, the show was called Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley.
Despite the benevolent title of his program, Frank actually had little time for Elvis. “His kind of music is deplorable,” he famously said back in 1956, “a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.” In fact, Frank hated all rock and roll music—he said it was “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons.”
“He has a right to his opinion,” Elvis countered at a press conference in October 1957 when asked about Frank’s comments, “but I can’t see him knocking it for no good reason. I admire him as a performer and an actor but I think he’s badly mistaken about this. If I remember correctly, he was also part of a trend. I don’t see how he can call the youth of today immoral and delinquent. It’s the greatest music ever and it will continue to be so. I like it, and I’m sure many other persons feel the same way.”
Whatever Sinatra thought of Presley’s style of entertainment, he was shrewd enough to realize that Elvis’s return from the army was such big news that his first TV appearance would generate huge ratings. Therefore, he paid Elvis $100,000 to make a ten-minute appearance on the program. Colonel Parker, Elvis’s manager—in an unintentional tip of the hat to George Evans’s tricks back in the 1940s with Sinatra at the Paramount—made certain that three hundred girls from Presley’s fan club were present in the audience to guarantee a strong audience response.
After Elvis, who appeared constrained wearing an ill- fitting tuxedo, did a couple of numbers (“Fame and Fortune,” “Stuck on You”), Frank joined him onstage. “I’ll tell ya what we’ll do,” Frank said, taking charge. “You do ‘Witchcraft,’ and I’ll do one of those others…”(which meant that Elvis would sing one of Sinatra’s songs and Sinatra would sing one of Presley’s). Though they exhibited little chemistry together, this meeting of two pop- culture icons is still considered a classic moment by both Sinatra and Presley enthusiasts.
In retrospect, the most noteworthy part of that broadcast really had nothing to do with Elvis, and everything to do with Frank. At one point during the hour-long broadcast, Sinatra—wearing
an exquisitely tailored dark suit and black bow tie—walked to center stage and casually lit a cigarette. Taking a puff, he looked at it intently as the orchestra swelled behind him. Then, tilting back his head, he began the first few notes of a lovely rendition of composer Allie Wrubel’s
“Gone with the Wind,” from Sinatra’s pensive Only the Lonely album.
It was a natural- feeling performance, simple and elegant. During it, Frank demonstrated once again what a masterful communicator he was as he conveyed the sadness of the song (“yesterday’s kisses are still on my lips”) in such a direct, easy manner. At one point, he paused and casually let out a small cough. It was Sinatra at his heartbreaking, aching best. Then, at the end of the song, he took a final puff and lowered his head sadly.
“Elvis was all the rage at the time,” Frank Sinatra Jr. recalled. “But I think that my father proved that when you strip away all the hysteria and mania, at the end of the day what matters is real emotion, real singing.”
Sinatra by J. Randy Taraborrelli is published by Pan Macmillan
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