Sunday, 6 December 2015

Frank Sinatra: Voice Of the Century (Part 2)

by Emma Bell

Sinatra was riding high.

Thousands of girls swooning at his crooning, hit records, radio shows and film musicals which all showcased his extraordinary talent.

Anchors Aweigh, a charming ‘sailors on shore leave’ tale with Gene Kelly, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song at the Academy Awards; the song certainly demonstrated Sinatra’s confidence and warm delivery of the genre of the  ‘loser’s song’ : a genre he perfected over the years.

His next film project was particularly interesting:  The House I Live In was awarded a special Golden Globe and Academy Award for ‘Merit of a Film That Speaks Up Against Racism and Anti-Semitism’ in 1946. Sinatra was a lifelong Democrat and campaigner, (partly due to his mother Dolly’s huckstering in Hoboken) and as the son of immigrants, knew the sting of racism and gladly accepted the role of ‘himself’ in the documentary. It was simple but effective, but his politics earned him the wrath of the conservative Hearst press (Hearst newspapers ran articles against socialism, against the Soviet Union and especially against Stalin. Hearst also tried to use his newspapers for overt Nazi propaganda purposes, publishing a series of articles by Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man). Sinatra’s liberalism enraged Hearst.

However, by 1948, Sinatra's appeal was slipping; his beloved publicist and guardian of his reputation, George Evans died suddenly, and the singer was adrift. 

Ava Gardner

In February 1949 Frank met Ava Gardner, and met his match. She was a red-hot actress with an almost supernatural beauty and charisma. A tempestuous relation ensued immediately, followed with prurient glee by the Hearst press who denounced Sinatra’s   adulterous ways.  

The tension in his life affected his work: he performed at the Copa in New York in April 1949 and as he opened his mouth to sing his first number, his throat haemorrhaged and blood filled his mouth. Sinatra, white faced, fled from the stage.

The divorce from Nancy cost him dearly: he had to borrow $200,000 to pay his taxes; he drew ever smaller audiences (an example: 150 seats sold in a 1200 seat venue).

A hostile press alleged connections with Communists and mobsters. Headlines roared about Frank and Ava’s marriage. Sinatra’s increasingly short temper led to fistfights with journalists and photographers. Dwindling record sales and a disinterested record company merely added to his misery. From the top to the bottom in ten years: Sinatra was over. 

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