"Frankie is on the skids!" "Sinatra is all washed up!" "Frank is finished!"
That old refrain is being bounced around more and more. It started a couple of years ago with people in the music business. Now it has spread to the fans themselves. Frankie's friends are getting more and more worried while his enemies become more delighted.
This isn't the first case of this sort in recent years. You'll remember that about two years ago the word spread like wildfire that Bing Crosby was rapidly becoming a has-been. "Der Bingle's voice has finally cracked!" the voices whispered. You know the answer to that one. Bing's melodious voice, after wobbling awhile like a foghorn, soon recovered its usual tones, and his records, radio show and movies went sailing along as in days of yore. But that doesn't answer the question: "Is Sinatra Finished?" I'll do that a little later on. First of all, let us study some recent Sinatra history that has fostered current rumors that "The Voice" is now just "The Gargle."
Frank's troubles all started sometime in 1946--just ten years after his memorable visit to the Bing Crosby movie that decided him on his career of moon and swoon. Sinatra happens to be a good-natured guy; in fact, the gold in his heart often seems to make him slightly soft in the head.
Anyway, "The Voice" was persuaded by certain political salesmen to identify himself with "Causes" that would (so he was convinced) help mankind. These "Causes" would help the underdog they said--and also help the downtrodden masses. He was shown how to do his bit by attending certain Hollywood rallies, by collecting funds for folks unable to help themselves, by making speeches in ballrooms and ballparks. Frankie went all out in these activities. He's not the kind to spare himself when he firmly believes he is on the side of right. The only trouble was that Frank had been persuaded to tie himself up with "transmission belts." These are outfits (sometimes called "innocent organizations") that use people like Sinatra, who more often leap with good heart than hard head. Unfortunately, the political color of this cause happens to be a deep shade of red!
Sinatra's disillusion with his "innocent" activities, plus the bad publicity it resulted in, was followed quickly by a nasty experience that was headlined on thousands of newspapers. That was the smear campaign resulting from Frankie's famous 1947 handshake, in Cuba, with the notorious gangster, Lucky Luciano.
It was just plain hard luck for "The Voice" that Robert Ruark, a widely-syndicated columnist, happened to be in Cuba at the time. It seems that the unsavory Luciano was a Sinatra fan, and somehow managed to arrange a meeting with the singer. It also happens that Robert Ruark was nearby when the historical handshake took place . . . Thus started the one-week newspaper sensation that boosted some newspaper circulation sky-high, but did nothing to boost Frankie's reputation. Especially coming on the heels of Frankie's innocent association with pro-Soviet causes. And so another dent was added to the reputation of "The Voice."
Now the more a guy hits the front pages, the more the gossip columnists, scandal-mongers and ill-wishers get to work on him. Newspapermen just like to write about other people in trouble. So the disparaging remarks about Frankie's "caverns in his cheeks," his "English Droop figure" and his bevy of swooning, screaming bobby-sox fans increased. There was no romantic scandal to sock Frankie with in the press--so the careless speech here, and the casual handshake there, provided grist for the gossip mill.
No romantic scandal, did I say? Well, for a while, anyway. Seems that 1947 was just a hard-luck year for Sinatra. On top of all other troubles, he somehow picked 1947 to let his name and reputation get tied up with that of Lana Turner, the Sweater Girl, and no mean headliner herself!
Through the heat of Hollywood days the blaze of Hollywood night clubs, the thrice-married Lana dragged her sweaters and sables by Frankie's side. And before long, Sinatra dragged his valises out of his home. The home that heretofore had housed one of America's dream families: Nancy, Frank and their two children, Nancy aged seven, and Frank Jr., aged four.
It is no wonder that the columnists seized on the new development and chattered gaily away while ten million loyal bobby-soxers chewed their homework pencils nervously, their eyes staring glumly in the distance. However, all on the romantic front ended well before long.
One night at Slapsie Maxie's, Frank and Nancy reconciled in a scene that would have put to shame the most imaginative movie director in Hollywood. You all remember how Phil Silvers spotted the Sinatras at separate tables. How he walked Frank from his own table to that of his estranged wife. How Frank sang "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)," a song dedicated to his own daughter. How the reconciliation took place right there and then, amidst a vale of tears and a cynical gang of newspaper reporters. To many, the scene was a bit too maudlin for comfort--but anyway, the reconciliation was effected, and the Turner-Sinatra scandal became a thing of the past.
That was March, 1947. People began again to think of Sinatra in terms of "The Voice," instead of front page news and scandal. But not for long. The very next month, in Ciro's, Frankie hit the headlines again!
It's hard to say whether Sinatra should be criticised, or not, for landing a sock on the jaw of columnist Lee Mortimer in Ciro's. Even if the sock also landed him in the headlines again--and almost in the hoosegow!
It seems that Mortimer allegedly murmured a slurring remark as he passed Frank. Apparently the remark did no credit to minority groups--reflecting on the nationality to which Frank belongs. The Italians.
Anyhow, Frankie's bellicose nature--which he had kept under remarkable restraint since his stormy, fight-ridden Tommy Dorsey days--asserted itself. He let go with a wallop. He ended up in Court, finally settled privately the assault and battery charges brought against him by Mortimer. But there was no settling the unfavorable glare of his name spread out again on the front pages of the nation's newspapers.
With the Mortimer mess, though, Frankie's hard luck year came to an end. That is, as far as gossip and scandal. But the stress and strain of publicity and the notoriety had apparently taken its toll.
Just about the time that Bing Crosby's voice took a terrific upswing, squelching the stories that he was "all washed up," Sinatra came out with his latest movie, The Miracle of the Bells. This movie didn't exactly tarnish the reputation of "The Voice," but it certainly did nothing to help it. Sinatra's voice and his acting were just an uncomfortable distance away from his bright work in Anchors Aweigh, and It Happened in Brooklyn. Enough to make a few critics raise their sensitive eyebrows and some fans sigh in disappointment. And enough to make people draw unfavorable comparisons with Bing's stellar characterization as Father O'Malley. And on top of The Miracle, came a bevy of poor Sinatra records. There is little question--even in the minds of the most ardent Sinatra fans--that Frankie's recordings of the past year are decidedly below par. Furthermore, his scheduled part in making an album of songs from the Broadway hit, Inside U.S.A. had to be cancelled. The part had to be reassigned to Buddy Clark because Frankie's voice was not in condition to handle the tunes.
To confirm the bad impression made by his records, Frank began to slip on his radio show, The Hit Parade. He missed notes, cracked phrases and attacked melodies with seeming indifference. Gone was the heart-felt conviction which distinguished his earlier singing of the most mediocre lyrics. Gone was the grace of feeling, and of phrasing, that made him America's dream-singer.
And as a result of all this: enter the whispers, now growing into a loud, coast-to-coast murmur, that Frank Sinatra is through . . .
Well . . . Why?
Well . . . there's no doubt, in the first place, that the wear and tear of all the aforementioned headline-notoriety didn't help Frankie's voice. The work of any person under an emotional strain is bound to suffer during these periods. Just as Bing's did a couple of years ago.
But more important was the wear and tear resulting from the tremendous amount of work that Sinatra took upon himself. Maybe you don't know it, but toward the end of last year, the record companies started making records en masse. They did this in order to have a huge stock of them on hand before January 1, 1948, when Petrillo, union boss of the musicians, commanded that no more records be made. As a result Frank made one record after another--day and night. He also continued with his radio show. He starred in a movie. He made five or six shows a day in theatres. Furthermore, Sinatra likes to live high, wide and handsome, so he continued to go sailing, play baseball, visit race tracks and drop into night clubs.
Is it any wonder why the strongest of voices would begin to crack under the strain of such a regimen? Is it not logical that Frank's voice should reflect the fatigue that resulted from this manner of living?
But does all that mean that Frank Sinatra is on the skids? On the way down? Finished?
A man who still makes $300,000 a year from the movies, (he's in MGM's The Kissing Bandit now) $250,000 from the radio, $150,000 from records, and many thousands more from personal appearances is hardly a has-been!
Hardly! Especially when he has grown up enough in the last year--as Frankie certainly has--to realize that it is not possible to maintain a mad, whirling work-and-play schedule. And at the same time continue to be "The Voice."
Sinatra's natural cockiness as to his physical and emotional capacities is being sharply replaced by the use of reason and logic. He is now realizing that he cannot keep up his backbreaking schedule and still be the idol of millions of fans.
And with his growing use of reason, it is doubtful that he will soon again pull any more front-page boners. Political ones, for example, which had millions stamping him as a Red. Sinatra has attained a growing awareness of American politics that will prevent any more "innocent" collaboration with Soviet-minded "transmission belts." This does not mean, however, that his heart of gold has turned into one of stone. Frank will still battle for tolerance, but he will be careful not to get involved with shady organizations who simply want to "use" him.
In other words, Frankie has "grown up" considerably since his troubles started a couple of years ago. He's taken quite a beating, and it has shown in his singing. But he has learned what mistakes NOT to make through the best teacher of all. Experience.
So don't let people tell you that "The Voice" has become "The Gargle." Frankie has slipped a little, sure. Just as Bing did a few years back. But Bing's voice recovered, as ours do after exhaustion, strain and emotional disturbances.
Sinatra is NOT finished!