Frank Sinatra (Special photo)
“Sinatra was simply the best – no one else even comes close.”
— Sir Elton John
Wanna start a quick argument among entertainment enthusiasts?
Who was the greatest entertainer of the past 100 years? To be considered, a performer must have been born in 1914 or later, excelled in music and the movies as well as doing live work either on Broadway or concerts.
There are many worthy candidates including Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Barbra Streisand, Cher and Dolly Parton.
But there is only performer who could be the top entertainer of the past 100 years: Francis Albert Sinatra.
Born in 1915 in Hoboken, N.J., Sinatra has a body of work that is unsurpassed. He recorded an incredible 297 singles, 56 studio albums, 8 compilation albums and two live albums. From 1957 to 1966, Sinatra had 27 Top 10 albums and more than 10 No. 1 singles. For his efforts, he received 34 Grammy nominations, winning the honor 11 times. He sold more than 250 million records — that’s right, 250 million — worldwide.
Frank Sinatra Bio
Born: Dec. 12, 1915, in Hoboken, N.J.
Died: May 14, 1998, in West Hollywood, Calif.
Cause of death: Heart and kidney disease and bladder cancer
Wives: Barbara Sinatra (1976-98), Mia Farrow (1966-68), Ava Gardner (1951-57), Nancy Barbato (1939-51)
Children: Nancy Sinatra (born 1940), Frank Sinatra Jr. (1944) and Tina Sinatra (1948)
Between 1941 and 1966, he was named Male Singer of the Year 16 times.
Sinatra appeared in 58 movies and was nominated for an Oscar seven times, winning four. He also produced seven movies, all of which showed a profit.
He won an Oscar in 1954 for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “From Here to Eternity.” Sinatra also won three Oscars for Best Original Song for “Three Coins in a Fountain” in 1954, “All the Way” in 1957 and “High Hopes” in 1959.
He is one of five performers to have a No. 1 hit and to win an Oscar for acting. The others are Bing Crosby, Cher, Barbra Streisand and Jamie Foxx.
Sinatra and Paul Newman are the only two to win an Honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and a competitive Oscar.
Frank Sinatra … By the Numbers
297 singles recorded
59 studio albums
8 compilation albums
2 live albums
11 Grammy Award winners
34 Grammy nominations
16 Male Singer of the Year Awards (1941-66)
58 Movie appearances
7 Films as movie producer
7 Academy Award nominations
4 Academy Award wins
The Hersholt Award is given periodically by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Governors Awards ceremonies for an individual’s outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes. Unlike the Academy Award of Merit, the nomination and voting for this award are restricted to members of the Board of Governors.
The award is named after screen actor Jean Hersholt (1886–1956), who served as president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund for 18 years. He also served as the organization’s president from 1945 to 1949. Winners of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award are presented with an Oscar statuette. There have been 34 recipients, two of which were awarded posthumous.
Sinatra had several other major opportunities in Hollywood, but they did not reach fruition. He originally was signed to play Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” in 1956, but quit on the first day of filming when he discovered that each scene was going to be shot twice, employing two different sizes of lens.
“I was paid to make one movie, not two,” Sinatra quipped. His insistence of doing only one scene earned his the nickname “One Take Charlie.”
He rejected the lead in “Pajama Game” in 1957, a role which would have paired him with Janis Paige, who had played the role on Broadway. As a result of Sinatra’s decision, Paige was replaced by Doris Day because she was a better box office draw.
Sinatra was the first choice to play the lead role in “Dirty Harry” in 1971 but had to bow out because of a broken finger. The role eventually went to Clint Eastwood.
He also rejected the lead role as Paul Kersey in “Death Wish” in 1974. The role went to Charles Bronson, who gained international fame because of it.
Sinatra’s history as a live performer is virtually unparalleled. He had his legendary opening at the Paramount Theater on Dec. 30, 1942. When Ol’ Blue Eyes returned to the Paramount on Columbus Day 1944, an estimated 35,000 fans caused a near riot outside the venue because they could not gain admittance. Most of the crowd comprised “bobby soxers” — what teen girls were called at that time because they wore high-ankle socks.
Sinatra was the first singer to attract a near-hysterical following that later would accompany live performances by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
In September 1951, Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn, and he became a prominent figure on the Vegas scene throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He occasionally performed with the “Rat Pat,” alongside pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
Blessed with an innate ability to “sell” a song, Sinatra worked in Vegas from 1951 to 1988.
“Frank Sinatra was the destination’s most enduring icon, an inimitable original who was influential in shaping Las Vegas’ image and entertainment scene,” said Oscar B. Goodman, Las Vegas’ mayor from 1999 to 2011.
When Sinatra performed in Las Vegas, it was not unusual for other city venues to change their headliners to animal shows because all the high rollers would go see Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra’s Top Films
1945 “Anchor’s Aweigh”
1949 “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
1952 “Meet Danny Wilson”
1953 “From Here to Eternity”
1955 “Guys and Dolls”
1955 “The Man with the Golden Arm”
1957 “The Joker is Wild”
1957 “Pal Joey”
1960 “Ocean’s Eleven”
1962 “The Manchurian Candidate”
1962 “Sergeants Three”
1963 “Come Blow Your Horn”
1965 “Von Ryan’s Express”
1967 “The Naked Runner”
1967 “Tony Rome”
1968 “The Detective”
In 1988 Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin embarked on a cross-country tour. The tour lasted only one week when Martin left and was replaced by Liza Minnelli.
Sinatra also extensively toured foreign nations including virtually all of Europe during World War II, Japan, Israel, Mexico, Australia and South Africa. His 1981 South African tour generated negative publicity. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid denounced Sinatra for “collaborating with the apartheid regime.”
Influenced by Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, the 5-foot-7 crooner began his illustrious singing career in 1939 during the Swing Era, performing with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras before starting his solo career in 1942.
In addition to being a talented performer, Sinatra was an activist and a dedicated friend. Growing up in Hoboken, he was sympathetic toward the plight of African-Americans and worked throughout his life to help them win equal rights. He played a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos during the 1960s.
On Jan. 27, 1961, Sinatra played a benefit show at Carnegie Hall in New York for Martin Luther King Jr. He led his fellow Rat Pack members and his Reprise record label mates in boycotting hotels and casinos that refused entry to black patrons and performers.
Sinatra often spoke from the stage on desegregation and repeatedly played benefits on behalf of King and his movement. King sat weeping in the audience at a concert in 1963 as Sinatra sang “Ol’ Man River,” a song from the musical “Show Boat” that is sung by African-American stevedores, men hired to unload and load ships.
Perhaps the most powerful man in show business during the apex of his career, Sinatra played an instrumental role in getting Sammy Davis Jr. approved to headline shows in Las Vegas.
Frank Sinatra’s Top Songs
1940 “I’ll Never Smile Again”
1942 “Night and Day”
1943 “People Will Say We’re in Love”
1944 “White Christmas”
1954 “Fly Me to the Moon”
1955 “Love and Marriage”
1956 “Hey Jealous Lover”
1956 “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
1957 “All the Way”
1958 “Come Fly With Me”
1959 “High Hopes”
1961 “The Second Time Around”
1964 “The Way You Look Tonight”
1965 “It was a very Good Year”
1966 “Strangers in the Night”
1966 “That’s Life”
1966 “Summer Wind”
1969 “My Way”
1980 “New York, New York”
Sinatra also was a major supporter of Jewish causes throughout his life. He stepped forward during the early 1940s to push America into saving the remaining Jews in Europe. He also sang at an “Action for Palestine” rally in 1947 and donated more than $1 million to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The college then honored Sinatra by naming the International Student Center for him. Because of his support of the Jewish state, some Arab nations have banned some of his movies and songs.
If Sinatra liked you as a friend, there was none better. In Miami to appear at the Fontainebleau Hotel in January 1968, Sinatra received an emergency call from pop singer Tony Bennett, who was preparing to step on stage for his opening night at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Empire Room. Bennett told Sinatra that a hysterical Judy Garland had just called him, crying that someone was threatening her life and she needed help — immediately!
Sinatra reached out with his “special” touch. While filming “The Detective” in the Big Apple, he had befriended New York detectives as well as members of the city’s Police Department who had become his fans.
In a matter of minutes, Garland called Bennett and reportedly said, “I asked for help, but this is ridiculous. There are 1,000 police on the street outside my brownstone. And about 500 lawyers in my apartment!”
The shows in Miami and New York were held without delay.
During Labor Day weekend in 1976, Sinatra was responsible for reuniting old friends and comedy partners Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sinatra made his usual appearance on Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, singing “Stargazer” and “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.” Then, capping three months of elaborate secret planning, he said to Jerry, “Listen, I have a friend who loves what you do every year. … Would you send my friend out, please? Where is he?”
Out strolled Martin.
As Martin and Lewis warmly embraced, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?”
To which Lewis replied, wiping away tears, “You son of a b.”
To Martin, Jerry said, “So, how ya been?”
And Martin replied, “You know, it seems like we haven’t seen each other for 20 years.”
Then Sinatra and Martin did a 10-song medley. Afterward, Lewis commented, “When Francis Albert is around, usually there’s gonna be excitement.”
Only Sinatra could have engineered that maneuver.
Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.