We recently attended a musical tribute to the skinny kid from Hoboken, NJ, in which a later generation of talented young people sang the songs which made him famous.
They probably weren't even born when he was in his prime.
They performed for an audience consisting of gray-haired ex-bobbysoxers and a few veterans of World War II who were reliving a time before canes and arthritis caught up with them.
In case you wanted to know, Francis Albert Sinatra was born on Dec. 12, 1915, the son of a Sicilian father and an Italian mother who came to Hoboken when it was a rough, tough town not far from New York City.
Although as a youngster he had dreams of becoming a sportswriter (her actually was employed by the local Hudson Observer as an office boy), he apparently was a good child. His father, a fireman and part-time boxer, wanted him to be a prize-fighter. Instead, the wiry boy went on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour with his high school group called the Hoboken Four – not as a fighter but as a singer! (He never graduated, incidentally).
They won the contest and toured for a time with Bowes. That got him a job as a singing waiter in a New Jersey night spot where he was "discovered" by Harry James, who had just left Benny Goodman and was forming his own big band.
After a brief stint with the James orchestra, he was enticed away by another popular bandleader, Tommy Dorsey. Though he had recorded several tunes with James – later re-issued – he enjoyed greater fame with the trombonist's group in a series of recordings, including the Grammy Hall of Fame piece, I'll Never Smile Again.
In the meantime, he married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Barbato, with whom he had three children: Nancy, Frank and Tina.
By that time, I was one of his faithful fans. It shook me up when their marriage fell apart in 1951, but I should have known it was coming.
He had gotten a case of the Hollywood bug when he appeared in a couple of films with the Dorsey band. He left Dorsey in 1942 with the intention of a solo career, just in time for the recording ban issued by the American Federation of Musicians.
He then made several a capella records with a choral backup which I remember as a private in the U.S. Army. He also got his first movie credits when he sang Night and Day in the film Reveille with Beverly. That indeed was a busy time for Sinatra.
He became America's first teen idol as his youthful fans swooned in the aisles when he sang. It was a phenomenon which we wouldn't see again until the Beatles and Elvis came along.
But after all the records he had made and the screaming school girls, his career faltered in 1950 because of throat problems and his new-found troubles with the press. Yet he fought back when he played Maggeo in the movie From Here to Eternity. It was a non-singing role for which her got an Oscar for best supporting actor.
He had gone Hollywood all the way. His marriage to actress Ava Gardner blew up in its fifth year, and his time with Mia Farrow was over in less than two years. His fourth wife – Barbara, a dancer formerly married to Zeppo Marx – stayed with him.
His Rat Pack – which included Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin – took up much of his time. Then there was the Las Vegas scandal and his association with big time mobsters! Before the House Select Committee on Crime, he always denied any connections with the Mafia.
Meanwhile, his records and albums kept coming out, and the other side of him prevailed. He finally retired from performing at age 80. He died soon afterward from what his doctor described as a heart attack – and not from suffering a pinched nerve as his publicist insisted.
It all came back to me in the musical tribute to him – and I just about choked up when they sang his signature song because my sister chose it for her funeral: the Paul Anka version of I Did It My Way.
© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz