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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frank Sinatra (1915-98)

Francis Albert Sinatra was born December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey. The son of Anthony Martin Sinatra (1894-1969), who immigrated to the United States from Sicily, to become a New York City firefighter and professional boxer (known as "Marty McCoy") who wound up as the owner of a speakeasy (illegal saloon during Prohibition), and Natalie Della "Dolly" Sinatra (1894-1977), a woman from Genoa, who was a midwife, Democratic party official, and abortionist, Frank was an only child. When he was born, there were many complications. Originally, his mother wanted a girl, so Frank's name was originally Frances. Weighing in at 13 pounds and eight ounces, he appeared to be stillborn at delivery. Placed under a cold water faucet, this scarred him for life and permanently punctured his eardrum. He had a very normal upbringing in the shadow of New York City. In 1932, at the age of 15, Frank dropped out of high school and went to work for the Jersey Observer, a newspaper. Frank then went to work for the Tietjan and Lang Shipyard as a riveter. In the early 1930s, he also began working as a singer in saloons, which were still illegal at that time due to Prohibition. Frank was still in his mid teens at that time. After President Franklin Roosevelt's first Inauguration in 1933, alcohol became legal and saloons were wide open.

As a young singer, Frank idolized Bing Crosby and wanted to be everything he was. With his parents' help (since his dad owned a saloon), Frank began singing a lot. In 1934, there was a popular singing trio in the area known as the Three Flashes. Frank's mother begged them to let her son sing with them for a performance at the Hoboken Union Club. This was a step in the right direction as, with Frank as lead singer, they became the Hoboken Four and became contestants on Major Bowes' Amateur Hour on NBC radio on September 8, 1935.

The Amateur Hour was a forerunner to today's American Idol and other such talent shows. Frank's group didn't win but Major Edward Bowes liked Frank so much, he quietly awarded him a check for $35 (the same amount a professional singer got for singing on a single episode of a network show). With his mother's help he secured a job at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood, New Jersey, as a singing waiter. He earned $15 a week at this job and was able to be heard singing on WNEW radio in New York City.

Frank married Nancy Barbato February 4, 1939. They would have three children: Nancy Sandra Sinatra (1940- ); Francis Wayne Sinatra, alias Frank Sinatra, Jr. (1944- ); and Christina "Tina" Sinatra (1948- ).

In March 1939, he made his first recording with the Frank Mane band. Three months later Harry James hired him as a singer for $75 a week. Frank only stayed with the Harry James a short while. In November, he was approached by Tommy Dorsey, who hired him in January 1940. After a few years, he would not be tied down to any one band.

Frank began making motion pictures in 1940 with a couple of movies as the male singer with Tommy Dorsey's band. In 1946, he signed a motion picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Movies included Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949), among others.

In 1951, he left wife Nancy and their three kids, for starlet Ava Gardner. Their relationship lasted for five years and it began a downward spiral for Frank's singing career. In 1952, his vocal chords hemorrhaged and he thought he would have to quit singing all together. He had previously begun a TV show on CBS, however, by the end of 1952 CBS-TV, Columbia Records, and Universal (with whom he then had a movie contract) all dumped him.

A role in From Here to Eternity (1953) was offered him for what even then was considered a measly sum of $8,000. Despite winning the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor in the role of Private Angelo Maggio, he still was not accepted by the studios as a viable performer. He won a special Oscar a decade before and would win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1973.

Frank gave some amazingly powerful performances in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Suddenly (1954), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). His voice healed and he once again able to sing again, although it sounded a little different.

Ava Gardner and Frank were divorced in 1957. Frank was then able to spend some time with his estranged children, two of which were teenagers. Eventually, the relationship Frank had with his kids was very strong.

Frank and daughter Nancy had the first father/daughter Number One hit song with C. Carson Parks' "Something Stupid" in 1965.

There would be two more marriages. The third was to actress Mia Farrow, who was younger than two of Frank's children. The fourth was to Zeppo Marx's ex-wife, Barbara. This was a few months before his mother was killed in a plane crash, which happened shortly after takeoff from Palm Springs, California. This marked a big change in Frank's life. He returned to his Roman Catholic roots and lived his final two decades feeling better about himself.

On radio, he had a very impressive resume which included many shows in which he was host or featured singer, such as Your Hit Parade. He was also the lead in Rocky Fortune.

He died March 14, 1998, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His wife Barbara and daughter Nancy were with him. His last words: "I'm losing (it)."

Frank Sinatra was a very giving man. When the picture Ed Wood (1994), a biopic about director Edward D. Wood, Jr., was being produced one part that was not mentioned was that Frank paid for Bela Lugosi's funeral.

People will always think what they want to think about others. But Frank Sinatra was one of the most giving men in show business.

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