Posts Tagged ‘frank sinatra’

This book, written by Frank Sinatra’s youngest child, is a fascinating insight into the man behind the music.  It’s also a book of two halves.  In the first half, Tina describes life as a young child, with a loving but often absent father – Frank having left Tina’s mother Nancy for Ava Gardner, while Tina was a baby.  Although clearly very close to her mother, Tina speaks well of Gardner, and even better of her father’s third wife, Mia Farrow, with whom she became good friends.

In the second half of the book, things take a sombre turn, as Frank marries his fourth and final wife, Barbara Marx, who was formerly married to Marx brother Zeppo.  The difficulties between Barbara and Frank’s children – Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina herself – have been fairly well documented, but here, any gaps are filled in, and Tina lets rip at Barbara. (I have read Barbara Sinatra’s book, ‘Lady Blue Eyes‘, which tells the story from the other side.  I didn’t enjoy that book anywhere near as much as those, or take to the author, and given the stories which were flying about within the industry while Frank and Barbara were married, I tend to believe Tina’s side of the story, although obviously only those who were there know the full truth.)

Tina describes how her mother and father remained close and loyal friends for the rest of Frank’s life, and how they often talked about getting back together.  It is sad to read about the troubles within the family upon Frank’s fourth marriage, and occasionally Tina makes a few assumptions about Barbara’s motives or actions, but it certainly appears that Barbara intentionally made life difficult for the Sinatra children, and caused a rift between them and their father.  Toward the end of his life, Frank Sinatra suffered from various illnesses, and was also diagnosed with dementia, and there is a real sense of tenderness in how Tina talks of her father.  His death and funeral were beautifully described, by a daughter who clearly loved her dad very deeply.

I would certainly recommend this book to any fans of Frank Sinatra – it’s an interesting and engaging read.  It’s not the book to read if you want to find out more about his career; it’s definitely a very personal memoir concentrating on Frank’s private life, but all the more enjoyable for it.

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Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), runs an illegal floating craps game (the game is held at different venues each night, to stop the police catching them gambling), in New York City.  To raise the $1000 needed to pay a man for a room in which to hold the game, Nathan bets Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), a man who is known to take a gamble on just about everything, that he (Sky) can’t get a woman of Nathan’s choosing to go to Havana with him.  The woman Nathan chooses is Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a prim and proper Sergeant in the Save-A-Soul Mission.  Nathan takes the bet, but when he goes to see Sarah, events take an unexpected turn.

This film is a wonderful musical comedy/drama.  I was interested to see how Marlon Brando would be as Sky Masterson, as musicals are not a genre usually associated with Brando.  The first choice for this role was apparently Gene Kelly, who wanted very much to play Sky, but he was contracted to MGM, and they would not loan him out for this film.  As I watched Brando, I tried to imagine Kelly playing the role, and I do think he would have made a marvellous job of it.  However, Brando surprised me by really making the part his own.  He may not have the best singing voice, but he holds a tune well, and I enjoyed his songs, especially the well known Luck Be A Lady.  He is also at his most handsome and charming here.  Sinatra, naturally, sings his songs beautifully, and was wonderful as the slightly dodgy but basically likeable Nathan Detroit.

I also loved Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine as Sarah Brown and Miss Adelaide (the latter being the long suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit, who despairs of them ever getting married).  Adelaide is a nightclub singer and dancer (backed by the real life dancers The Goldwyn Girls), and the couple of sings which we see her perform as part of her act are a real treat.  The opening dance scene, and the dance preceding the Luck Be A Lady are terrific, full of colour and beautifully choreographed, and the dancing in the Havana restaurant scene is also lots of fun to watch.

My only slight niggle about the film comes from its length – at 2 and a half hours, it is perhaps slightly overlong, but I’m probably nitpicking.  Overall, it was a funny film, packed with real talent, and well worth watching – highly recommended.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn

Writers: Damon Runyon (stories ‘The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown’ and ‘Blood Pressure’), Jo Swerling (play ‘Guys and Dolls’), Abe Burrows (play ‘Guys and Dolls’), Joseph L. Makiewicz, Ben Hecht

Main cast: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pully


(Click here for my review of the 2016 stage production of Guys and Dolls.)



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High Society was a musical adaptation of the play The Philadelphia Story, which had been adapted into a successful film, starring Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven and James Stewart as Mike Connor, in 1940.  Here the respective roles are taken by Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and the setting is moved from Philadelphia to Newport, RI, in order to incorporate the Newport Jazz Festival.

Briefly the storyline starts on the eve of Tracy Lord’s second marriage.  Her first husband, Dexter, is in attendance, and is still much loved by the rest of her family.  A seedy magazine is planning on publishing an expose about Tracy’s father, who has run off with a dancer, unless the Lord family allow the magazine access to the wedding.  Tracy baulks at the idea, but to save her family’s reputation, agrees to the deal.  Macauley ‘Mike’ Connor is the journalist sent to cover the event, and Liz Imbrie (Celeste Holm) is the photographer.

Matters are complicated when it becomes clear that not only is Dexter still in love with Tracy, but Mike also falls for her!  The events which take place cause Tracy to look at the reasons why her first marriage failed, and she learns some truths about herself along the way.

It is impossible not to compare this film with The Philadelphia Story, and there are so many reasons why I should prefer the earlier movie, but for some reason, High Society won my heart a lot more quickly than its predecessor did.  For my money, Cary Grant was a far better Dexter than Bing Crosby – nothing wrong with Bing’s acting, but Grant looked far more the part – and Katharine Hepburn was (for me anyway) a superior actress to Grace Kelly.  She did not possess Kelly’s warmth, but Tracy Lord is supposed to be a cold character anyway, especially at the beginning of the film.  James Stewart is just about a better Mike than Sinatra, although I always enjoy watching both men on screen.  But for all that, High Society seemed the funnier film.  The musical numbers were wonderful – many aided by the wonderful Louis Armstrong, playing himself, in town with his band for the Jazz Festival.  The Crosby/Sinatra duet ‘Well Did You Evah’ is an absolute delight, with two of the best loved voices of the time going head to head and seeming to love every moment of it.  Grace Kelly did a fine job as Tracy, and it was entirely believeable to see not two, but three – the third being her prospective new husband – men in love with her.  Celeste Holm never disappoints, and she certainly didn’t here.

The ending – which I’m not going to reveal – did seem to ‘jar’ a little more than it did in The Philadelphia Story, but I can accept that, because the rest o the film was so instantly enjoyable – the scenes were Mike and Liz first arrive at the house and are introduced to the family were a real hoot.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable film, with some terrific music, and lots of laughs.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Charles Walters

Producer: Sol C. Siegel

Writers: Philip Barry (play ‘The Philadelphia Story’), John Patrick

Main cast: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm, Louis Calhern


Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production of High Society.

Click here for my review of The Philadelphia Story.


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Yet another classic musical from MGM (who I believe made all the best musicals during the 40s and 50s).  Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra team up again for a third time (and just like in Anchors Aweigh, they play sailors on shore leave), and they are  joined by Jules Munshin, as the third member of their trio.  They are a day off in New York, and are determined to see all the sites, and meet some pretty girls.  Pretty soon all of them have fallen for a different girl (played respectively by Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller).  Super dance numbers and some great comedic moments ensue.

I loved this film – like other musicals of its day, it is happy and funny, and leaves you with a huge smile on your face.  Naturally, there are some fantastic dance sequences, mainly courtesy of Kelly, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller (whose tap dance in the museum is simply wonderful).  You kind of always know where the story is going, but the journey there is a great deal of fun.  There’s some snappy dialogue, and Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin all delight (Munshin was far funnier than I expected him to be, and I loved the scene on the top of the Empire State Building.)

Definitely a film to watch if you need a quick injection of happiness!

Year of release: 1949

Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Producers: Arthur Freed, Roger Edens

Writers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Jerome Robbins

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett

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This review relates to the mini-series made in 1992, chronicling the life of Frank Sinatra. The Executive Producer of the series was none other than Tina Sinatra, Frank’s youngest child. The story starts when Frank is 10, and is singing in bars to entertain the customers, and it finishes in 1974.

Frank is played by Philip Casnoff, a Broadway and tv/film actor. It must have been formidable to take on such a role (Casnoff met Sinatra on set), but Casnoff did a fine job. He looked enough like Ol’ Blue Eyes, to be believable, and rather than trying to do a straightforward imitation, it seemed more as though he was trying to capture the essence of Sinatra. He was excellent in the role, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.

Other stand-out cast members were Gina Gershon as Frank’s long-suffering first wife Nancy (Tina’s mother), and Olympia Dukakis as Dolly, Frank’s formidable mother. Marcia Gay Harden also does a great job as Frank’s second wife, Ava Gardner.

Considering that Tina Sinatra was at the helm, this series is a surprisingly warts-and-all look at Sinatra’s life. It captures the pain suffered by Nancy at her husband’s distance and specifically his penchant for other women, and also portrayed the tempestuous relationship between Frank and Ava.

However, I would say that this is best enjoyed if you already have some knowledge of Sinatra’s life. This is because while the series lays out the early days of his career, and how he built his way to the top, the later years are covered much quicker (his marriage to Mia Farrow is shown from first meeting to divorce in a total of about 10 minutes). There is also little shown of his friendship with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, although the series does show the breakdown of the friendship between Frank and Peter Lawford, after John F Kennedy – for whom Frank had campaigned vigorously – rejected an offer to stay at Frank’s house, for which Peter, who was married to JFK’s sister, got the blame.

Needless to say, the music is excellent, and the atmosphere and excitement that this exciting new singer caused, is well shown.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this series to any fans of Sinatra, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Year of release: 1992

Director: James Steven Sadwith

Producers: Tina Sinatra, Stanley Neufeld, Richard M. Rosenbloom

Writers: William Mastrosimone, Abby Mann

Main cast: Philip Casnoff, Gina Gershon, Marcia Gay Harden, Olympia Dukakis, Bob Gunton

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In 1960, Jay Bernstein came to Hollywood, hoping to make his fortune.  He had no idea what he was going to do, and no idea how he was going to do it.  But he did have determination, confidence and the ability to work as hard as it took.  With guts and grit, he became a publicist to many stars, including Farrah Fawcett and her then husband Lee Majors, and The Rat Pack.  He later branched out into managing stars, and producing, directing and writing for movies and television.  This book is his memoir of his long career in Hollywood, with the highs and lows, triumphs and let-downs, and of course, what life was like with such icons of the day.

I enjoyed the book a lot.  Bernstein is an engaging and very witty narrator; he’s also very frank, not only about the people who he worked with, but also about himself, being more than willing to admit when he made mistakes and bad decisions.  He also pulls no punches when it comes to his opinions on others (Frank Sinatra does NOT come out of this book well!!)

The book concentrates mainly on Bernstein’s work for Farrah Fawcett (the story of her rise to stardom, thanks to the hard work of Bernstein, is fascinating), Suzanne Somers, The Rat Pack, and Stacey Keach on the Mike Hammer television productions (based on Mickey Spillane’s books about Hammer).  Sadly, Jay Bernstein passed away while the book was being written, and a note at the end points out that there were far more stories he wanted to share, but his death meant that they are not in the book.

For anyone who is interested in movies or television, and the truth behind the glamorous facade of the industry, this book is enjoyable, easy to read, eye-opening and funny.  I highly recommend it!

(For more information about Jay Bernstein, please click here.)

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The author is the widow of Frank Sinatra.  She was his fourth wife, and their marriage lasted longer than his previous three put together (and longer than her previous two marriages put together).

In this book, she not only talks about her life with Frank, but also describes growing up in the sleepy town of Bosworth, Missouri, from where she moved to Wichita with her parents and became a model.  She decribes her unhappy marriage to Bob Harrison Oliver, with whom she had her son Bobby, and her second marriage to Zeppo Marx (of Marx Brothers fame).  Finally, she describes her relationship with Frank, how it started, progressed to marriage, and how they apparently had a very happy life together.

There are some good things about this book.  It’s an undemanding read, and even the parts of Barbara Sinatra’s life that happened before she met Frank Sinatra were illuminating.  However, the vast majority of the story is understandably given over to their life together.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to warm to, or even like, the author very much.  I suspect that she wants the viewer to believe that she and Frank were the absolute loves of each other’s lives, and nobody who they had relationships with before even really mattered.  It also seemed like she was trying to convince the reader that nothing she ever did wrong was her fault.  Ever.  She cheated on both of her first two husbands – the first time with Joe Graydon, the television host, who was a married man himself.  While married to Zeppo Marx (and poor old Zeppo does not come out of this account very well), she flew to Monaco for a holiday and said that she worried about what Zeppo might get up to with other women while she was away – but this was while she herself was flying away for an illicit liaison with Frank Sinatra!

She claimed at one point to be ‘joined at the hip’ to her son Bobby, but this is the child who she dumped on her parents when he was just a small toddler, while she swanned off to Vegas with her married lover, and became a Vegas showgirl.  Later in life, Bobby moved to Switzerland and met a girl who he wanted to marry.

Her love of money and the glamourous life is also plain to see.  Barbara describes in detail many of the pieces of jewellery that Frank bought for her (yet his children and grandchildren barely get mentioned in this book, and his daughters Nancy and Tina are never mentioned by name.  This may of course be because Barbara famously did not get on with Nancy and Tina Sinatra.  Far from the account of a very happy marriage that is described here, Tina believed that Barbara made Frank’s life a misery.  Nobody who was not there can really know the truth, but there’s no reason to suppose that both women aren’t telling the truth as they see it; after all, different people can have widely differing perspectives on the same situation).  She more or less admits that she married Zeppo for his money, and when she wanted to leave him at one point, she decided not to, because after all, she could have gone back to work if she had to but after years of not having to earn her own money, that would be very tough on her.

However, while I still have not been able to warm up to Barbara Sinatra at all, I did enjoy the latter part of her story, because that is where – to me at least – Frank Sinatra was portrayed as less of a personality, and more of a person.  I even shed a tear when reading about how devastated he was when his old friends Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr died, and the respective stories of Frank’s mother Dolly’s death in a plane crash, and his own death also made me cry.  I think it was during these moments that I could see a flash of how Barbara must have actually loved her husband very much (although I’m not sure if she would have loved him so much if he had not been rich and famous).

There are some funny anecdotes in the book – not just about Sinatra, but about the many famous people who were his friends.  Initially the name dropping got on my nerves a bit, but I can forgive it, because if Barbara Sinatra’s life with Frank involved mingling with celebrities, it would be hard to discuss that life without mentioning those people.  There’s little doubt though that this is a sanitised version of Frank Sinatra, and there are no real new insights for fans.  The book demonstrates his immense charisma, the fact that he could be difficult to work with, but also generous to a fault.  An interesting read, but there are better biographies of Frank Sinatra out there.

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This charming musical features Frank Sinatra as Danny Miller, a young Soldier fresh out of the army, who can’t wait to get back home to Brooklyn, where he hopes to become a successful singer.  Danny moves in with school janitor Nick, and meets Anne Fielding (Kathryn Grayson), a music teacher who dreams of becoming an opera singer; and when  Jamie, a shy songwriter from England arrives, Danny offers to help him develop his talent and show him the Brooklyn experience.  The four of them also find time to help a young pianist gain a scholarship to an exclusive musical school.

This is neither Sinatra’s nor Grayson’s best known or most popular musical for MGM, but it is really a lovely film.  Sinatra, who so often plays a heel or a playboy, is really very sweet here (more like Clarence in Anchors Aweigh than Francois in Can-Can), and really makes the viewer warm to him.  He is impossibly good natured throughout, and naturally, sings beautifully.  Kathryn Grayson is great in her role as the feisty Anne, although most opera music leaves me cold, and I didn’t enjoy her songs particularly (although she did a nice duet with Sinatra).  Jimmy Durante as janitor Nick, almost steals the show however, providing a fine comic turn.  Indeed, all of the characters in the film are very likeable.

There’s also an actual story as well, rather than the film being merely a vehicle to showcase the songs – the subplot about the four friends helping pianist Leo win a scholarship is sweet.

Probably an overlooked musical from MGM (who produced all the best musicals), but definitely one with plenty of charm, and it’s well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1947

Director: Richard Whorf

Writers: Isobel Lennart, Jack McGowan

Main cast: Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Jimmy Durante, Peter Lawford

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This book is a gossipy, lurid, but always readable account of the rise and fall of the Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.  It charts how they came together in the first place (the name Rat Pack was given to them by Lauren Bacall, the wife of Humphrey Bogart, who Sinatra regarded as a hero), talks about their glory years when they seemed to rule the entertainment world from Las Vegas, and then the inevitable fall into, variously, drug abuse, alcoholism, bankruptcy and depression, leaving behind them a trail of broken marriages, broken hearts and more.

The book is not a biography of any of the Rat Pack members – their childhoods and very early careers are barely touched upon – and shouldn’t be read as such.  Instead, it covers the most successful and most volatile parts of their various careers, including such things as Sinatra’s involvement with the Mob, and the Kennedys (and both together at some stages).  Sinatra is the main focus of the book, with the others seeming to orbit around him – with the exception of Dean Martin, who, it seems fairly apparent, would kowtow to nobody.

Actually, despite the author’s obvious and understandable love for Sinatra’s singing, Frank does not come out of this account very well.  He is shown to be domineering and paranoid, unpredicatable – apt to change his mood in a moment – and a womaniser, who had little respect for anybody other than those he feared.  Dean Martin came out of it a little better – at least he was his own man.  Sammy Davis Jr was probably the most interesting of all of the Rat Pack members, for me anyhow.  The racism and abuse he had to deal with was shocking – while hotel and casino managers were happy to have him perform and entertain a crowd, they certainly were not about to let him mingle with that same crowd.  The section about the eventual desegregation in Vegas was illuminating and very interesting.  Sammy also seemed to be out of his depth in the Rat Pack – detested by white people because of the colour of his skin, and detested by black people for being friends with white men like Sinatra and Martin, he was caught between a rock and a hard place.  Peter Lawford came across as a sad character – born to looks, charm and charisma, Frank spat him out after he believed that Peter had double crossed him, and it’s sad to see how such a beautiful man as Lawford ended up sinking into a haze of drugs and alcohol, which cost him his life.  Joey Bishop was possibly the most enigmatic of the group – seemingly able to rib Frank without fear of reprisals, and remaining his own man as far as possible within the confines of such a group.

The Kennedys feature in the book – Frank was an ardent admirer of the family, and an overt campaigner for JFK when Kennedy was running for the democratic presidential nomination, and then the president.  The family as a whole do not come over well(!)  Also covered extensively was Frank’s connection with various gangsters – who were happy to use him, but clearly had little respect for him.

It was nice to read about a time when Las Vegas was a genuinely cool, sexy and glamorous place to be, unlike the commercial money making machine which it is these days; what a place it would have been to visit at the time!

The slang used in the book emulates the period covered, with mention of broads, dames and swells routinely peppered throughout the book.  This may annoy some viewers, but I actually enjoyed it a lot.  Overall I very much enjoyed the book, and it has whetted my apetite to find out more about the various Rat Pack members.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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In this 1960 musical, Shirley MacLaine plays Simone Pistache, the owner of a small cafe in Paris in the late 1890s.  She allows the saucy but illegall Can-Can dance to be performed in her establishment (and indeed, is one of the dancers), and winds up in court.  Frank Sinatra plays her lawyer and caddish boyfriend Francois (yes, Sinatra plays a French lawyer – albeit with an American accent!), who doesn’t like it when the new Judge Philip Forrestier (played by Louis Jourdan) falls for her.  Complications ensue…but who will Simone choose…..?

I loved this film – except for one thing…the ending.  I would have given it 10 out of 10, but the ending stopped me from doing so.  I won’t reveal what happens, but after reading a few reviews of the film, it appears that several other viewers felt the same way.

However, on the plus side – Louis Jourdan looked amazing and played a great part; Shirley MacLaine defied all my expectations as Simone – she looked stunning, danced beautifully and gave a really very funny turn indeed, and in fact was the best thing about a very enjoyable movie.  Sinatra on the other hand, seemed to be walking through his lines; he had some lovely songs, and of course he has that voice, but his acting skills really weren’t up to much (he could certainly turn in a good performance when he felt like it, such as in The Manchurian Candidate and From Here To Eternity), although it didn’t detract from the film overall.

I loved the dancing – the Can-Can itself hardly actually features in the film, but when we do see it, it’s a great dance.  Also excellent was a ballet about the story of Adam and Eve, which features towards the end of the film, and which really is a visual treat.  There were also plenty of genuinely funny moments, and a soundtrack which was chock-full of great music.  Cole Porter wrote much of the music, and while it may not have been his best or most memorable stuff, it is still a joy to listen to.

Overall then, definitely worth watching (and a pleasant surprise), but oh, that ending; the only weak spot in an otherwise lovely film.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Walter Lang

Writers: Dorothy Kingsley, Charles Lederer, Abe Burrows

Main cast: Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier

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