Written by Liz Buckley

Arts

Frank Sinatra: My Funny Valentine

Had he still been singing and swinging, Ol’ Blue Eyes would have turned 100 tomorrow. Our music supremo Liz Buckley explains why she’ll always get a kick out of him.

Frank with Eleanor Roosevelt at Girl's Town Ball in Florida, 1960

Frank with Eleanor Roosevelt at Girl’s Town Ball in Florida, 1960

December 12, 2015. If he’d have gone all the way, the sparkling blue-eyed, honey-toned wonder that was Francis Albert Sinatra would have been 100 years old today; and if I had my way, he’d still be here. Always, from here to eternity.

I’ve had Frank under my skin, come rain or come shine, loved him from the bottom of my heart since I first saw Guys & Dolls on Christmas television at six years old. And just like a thousand women, and probably also WALL-E, I’m not leaving his side anytime, anywhere soon. The man has voice to fall in love with, a swagger to charm the birds off the trees and the kind of impeccable tailoring that makes me want to cry when I’m drunk.

Frank was the kind of well-mannered gentleman who extends an arm and makes you want to take an old-fashioned walk on some enchanted evening. Okay, sure, I hear what you’re saying and I know you’re just trying to protect me… he’s also the kind of genius cad who steps out a helicopter holding a cocktail, where anything goes, who may be trouble ahead. A tender trap. But my God is he FUN!

“A sense of injustice and anger stayed with him throughout his life and was a positive force for change for an entire industry, if not entire country.”

I know, I got it bad. He’s my funny valentine. His music and films have been a constant source of happiness anywhere I’ve called home since that first time I saw him click his fingers. It’s almost like being in love… Some might say it’s witchcraft; that old black magic.

But Frank. I don’t just love you for sentimental reasons. As time goes by, my love has actually got stronger. Far from born free, he was the child of Italian immigrants in downtown Hoboken, suffering all the prejudices of race, class and low income that America in 1915 had to offer. That sense of injustice and anger stayed with him throughout his life and was a positive force for change for an entire industry, if not entire country.

Frank Sinatra signs his induction papers

Frank Sinatra signs his induction papers

Frank insisted on integrated orchestras backing him, on equal pay for all employees regardless of race, he refused to play any club that did not admit audience members of any race and would not stay at any hotel that refused entry to any section of society. It wasn’t just nice work if you can get it – it was work everyone should be allowed to do. He never stopped believing that something’s gotta give.

In the terms of the day, this was an enormous public stand and threatened both his employability and personal safety. And he did this time after time. To put into context Sinatra’s beliefs, he once argued with President Kennedy about the appropriateness of Sammy Davis Jr performing at JFK’s inauguration ceremony. And Frank lost – according to Sammy’s daughter’s biography, Sammy’s marriage to Swedish actress May Britt was considered an inter-racial step too far by the Democrats. A generous supporter both in profile and also financially for Martin Luther King, Frank also had a dream and even for many liberals at that time, it looked like an impossible dream.

Frank was also a record industry hero – having locked horns with Capitol Records for too long, he set up his own label Reprise and took many of his friends with him to protect their rights and royalties.

“Frank played gangsters at their own game. Vegas become racially integrated on Sinatra’s watch, at his insistence. Being Chairman Of The Board had its advantages. My kind of town!”

But, I realise, of course, that’s not to say Frank was pitch perfect in *all* things. As detractors will point out, just when he had the world on a string, as Frank grew older, so did his conservativeness, changing allegiances to become a supporter of Reagan. (As did James Brown, I’m sad to say). The world we knew had changed. But the good work that went before, they can’t take that away from me.

There were also of course accusations of connections to the Mafia which, at the time, to be fair to Sinatra was a racket nigh on unavoidable for anyone playing the club scene. Intrinsic to the venues, to radio play, to business and management, Frank played gangsters at their own game. Vegas become racially integrated on Sinatra’s watch, at his insistence. Being Chairman Of The Board had its advantages. My kind of town! It’s fairly well established these days that tall-tales such as the horse’s head threat in the Godfather film being a reference to how Frank progressed his high hopes for a Hollywood career were pure unfounded rumour, but such stories only really enhanced his reputation and his invincibility. I don’t believe in rumours. Just one of those things.

There’s the womanizing too of course, but to call it such is somewhat over-simplistic. Love and marriage is a many-splendored thing. Ava Gardner may have been the reason he left his first wife, but she also essentially put him on a slow boat to China so fair’s fair  – there are victims in love on all sides. These foolish things, how little we know.

Frank’s own daughter Nancy talks as though she was equally bewitched by the beautiful Ava, having forgiven her father in total for losing his heart (and trousers) with her own heart having gone the same way. It was a very good year I’m sure, but severe and punishing heartbreak swiftly followed. Blame it on his youth, but that’s life. He didn’t find happiness the second time around, or even the fourth, and with someone as romantic as Frank, that’s a great source of misery.

“His career took undeniable occasional dips as fashions changed, but Frank still always swung with the times.”

A short-lived, ill-matched marriage with Mia Farrow also faltered with conflicts over their filming commitments (and subject matter, Farrow having taken a role in Rosemary’s Baby against his wishes) and with an age gap they couldn’t quite breach, they were quickly little more than strangers in the night. But we’ve all done somethin’ stupid. It could happen to you too. So I reserve judgement when he proved a good father to his children and a huge champion of all their careers. Frank was more of a loving family man than he’s given credit for and the glowing way in which they speak of him is, largely, a joy. For them, love is here to stay. Good old Nancy with the laughing face.

The music Frank has left us with covers 50 full years of recording and I’ve hidden (some more obviously than others) 50 Frank Sinatra song titles in this article by way of tribute. While his career took undeniable occasional dips as fashions changed, he still always swung with the times.

Refusing to ever become outmoded, he teamed up with Bing Crosby to become the perennial sound of Christmas, he sang with Elvis to contend as the pin ups of the 50s and he acted alongside Marlon Brando to be the hero of the silver screen. When he died at 82, Sinatra, a tiny Italian man from Hoboken who couldn’t even read music, had won 11 Grammys, three Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, had not one but *three* stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and a lifetime achievement award from NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) for his role in civil rights.

I appreciate this is somewhat of a sentimental journey written in the wee small hours of the morning, misty-eyed on his anniversary and centenary, but Frank – you’ll never know, but I get a kick out of you. 

@liz_buckley

There are 50 Frank Sinatra song titles in the above article. In tribute to dear Frank:

All The Way
My Way
Always
From Here to Eternity
(I’ve Got You) Under My Skin
Come Rain Or Come Shine
From The Bottom Of My Heart
Anytime, Anywhere
Take An Old-Fashioned Walk
Some Enchanted Evening
Anything Goes
(Love Is) The Tender Trap
I Got It Bad
My Funny Valentine
Almost Like Being In Love
Witchcraft
That Old Black Magic
(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons
As Time Goes By
Born Free
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Something’s Gotta Give
Time After Time
Impossible Dream
Pitch Perfect
Got The World On A String
The World We Knew Had Changed
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
My Kind Of Town
High Hopes
I Don’t Believe In Rumours
Just One Of Those Things
Love and Marriage
Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
Slow Boat To China
These Foolish Things
How Little We Know
It Was A Very Good Year
Blame It On My Youth
That’s Life
Second Time Around
Strangers In The Night
Somethin’ Stupid
It Could Happen To You
Love Is Here to Stay
Nancy (With The Laughing Face)
Sentimental Journey
Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
You’ll Never Know
I Get A Kick Out Of You
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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.