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A life in pictures: Frank Sinatra

BY Eleanor Dunn

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

Swoonatra, The Voice, La Voz, Chairman of the Board: whichever nickname you might choose, the words of Frank Sinatra chime louder than ever as we reach his centenary. 

"When lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday, cash me out."

Not only did Sinatra shake, swing and catapult the music and film industries into a new era, he spearheaded an iconic attitude and Sultan-of-Swoon-swagger, half-cocked hat and all.

It was no easy task to condense the life of this many-sided icon into a few photographs—so Frank's enduring words will be taking the lead. After all, he did it his way. 

Baby blue eyes

Francis Albert ‘Frank’ Sinatra was always a diamond in the rough. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Frank was the only child of Sicilian immigrant parents.

Though he is now recognised as a slim songster, it is rumoured that Frank weighed a whopping 13.5 pounds at birth. His mother, nicknamed 'Dolly', was a midwife herself, charging $50 for each baby she delivered. 

A love of music was cemented in Frank’s humble high school years, when he sang in the glee club of Demarest High School. After being spellbound by a Bing Crosby performance in the mid-1930s, Frank became intent on making it as a singer.


Far from hums and harmonies to centre-stage

In this shot taken in 1939, Frank stands alongside fellow band members performing in Tommy Dorsey's The Pied Pipers

In 1940, the singer received an unlikely stroke of luck. Dorsey’s lead singer, Jack Leonard, quit the group—leaving Frank to take his place for two triumphant years. The band’s chart-topping success proved to be the springboard for the dazzling career that would follow.

Able to combine his love of music with acting from the word ‘go’, Frank made his screen debut in 1941 in Las Vegas Nights; he performed I’ll Never Smile Again with Dorsey’s band. A somewhat reluctant film star at first, Sinatra reportedly snubbed that “pictures stink.” 


Ladies, please…

Image via Washington Post

After two years with Dorsey, Sinatra boldly ventured into the world of music and film alone. He enjoyed tremendous success between 1943 and 1946, catapulting to swingin' stud status. Most notably, the rising star appeared in Anchors Aweigh and Oscar-winning The House I Live In.

In this photo Frank is swamped by adoring fans and the best was yet to come. 


"I just go on from day to day, taking what comes." 

A burst eardrum rendered the crooner unfit to serve in World War Two, a fate that alienated him. “There was a great loneliness”, he once commented, “I was the boy in every corner drugstore who’d gone off, drafted to the war.”

Frank’s voice traversed the distance, however. In the later years of the war, Sinatra was a part of the highly popular Andrews Sisters radio show, broadcast to troops via the Armed Forces Radio Service. He also performed in front of soldiers overseas, taking the stage alongside comedian Phil Silvers.

In this photo, Sinatra works his charms during an army broadcast. 


It was a very good year...

Image via BFI

As the dust began to settle after World War Two, Frank’s popularity dwindled. He had lost his recording contracts and remained quiet until 1953… but what a year it was. 

In his first non-singing role, Frank starred as an Italian-American soldier in drama From Here to Eternity. His punchy, bewitching acting style in his role as Private Angelo Maggio cemented Sinatra as the heavyweight screen presence he would remain for the rest of his life.

Frank earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance and was rapidly snapped up by Capitol Records.


"The best revenge is massive success."

In this rare capture from 1955, Sinatra jams and drinks in an impromptu performance with Nat King Cole. 

By the end of the 1950s, Frank’s success with Capitol Records had begun to mellow; the star decided to form his own record label, which he named Reprise. It would later be bought by entertainment giant Warner Bros, and become one of the most prolific labels in music history.


Got the world on a string

Frank Sinatra was at the peak of his game by the time the sounds of the swingin’ '60s had begun to rumble.

He headlined the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and headlined regularly at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. His characteristic cool and sharp-cut suits had become instantly recognisable.

In this photo, Sinatra looks suitably smug in one of his final sessions in Capitol's Hollywood studios. 


"Guys who work together, kid each other and love each other." – Sammy Davis Jr. on The Rat Pack 


Perhaps most memorably, the '60s marked the birth of The Rat Pack – an unstoppable, undeniable swath of songsters, womanizers, boozers and gamblers.

Frank united Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Dean Martin, all pictured; the five became icons of their generation, leaving a resounding mark on music, film and style that is still felt today.

The Rat Pack dominated the big screen in their glorious heyday, their hits including Ocean's Eleven (1960), Seargents Three (1962), Four for Texas (1963) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).


"Cock your hat - angles are attitudes." 

In his own career, Frank was well and truly 'back in the race.' In 1966 he reached the Billboard No.1 spot with Strangers in the Night, suavely swiping a Grammy on the way. Frank also claimed the No.1 for four weeks running in 1967; old pops proudly handed the ropes to daughter Nancy in their immortal, sugary duet Something Stupid.

This period also saw the birth of My Way, an honest, affecting swansong that would become one of the most beloved pieces of music ever recorded. 


Let me play among the stars


Frank did much more than dabble in politics amid the heights of his fame and fortune. The star formed a fragile yet profound relationship with President John F. Kennedy, working on his election campaign in 1960. 

When the President bailed on a visit to Sinatra’s house, citing Frank’s involvement with well-known mob boss Sam Gianca, they stopped all contact. Frank eventually turned to the opposite end of the political spectrum, becoming loyal to the Republican Party in the 1970s.

In this photo from 1981, Frank dances with Nancy Reagan during a trip to the White House to visit his then close friend, President Ronald Reagan.

After Sinatra's death, Reagan proclaimed "the sound of heaven's chorus is a little brighter and more beautiful… Frank's golden gift made him a Hollywood icon.  He sang about real people and real emotions; his songs and music transcend age and time."


The final curtain

Though his notoriety blossomed, and his influence continued to broaden, Frank’s acting and singing career gradually began to slow. His spectacular final performance took place in 1995, at the Palm Desert Marriot Ballroom in California.

Sinatra's entertainment career had spanned an astonishing 50 years, and on May 14th 1998, a heart attack that lead to his passing at 82 years old. 

Look for quotes about Frank Sinatra, and the echoes he left on culture and showbusiness will make themselves known. Billy Joel once commented; "Frank Sinatra's voice expresses more eloquence that I can ever say in mere words", so we thought we would leave the final say to the man himself…

“I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living life, a man who had good friends, fine family… I don't think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.” 


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