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Frank Sinatra

The Columbia Years
Frank Sinatra

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12 December 1915. He attended school in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he was a keen sportsman. On leaving school, he got a job as a copy boy and subsequently cub sports reporter on the Jersey Observer where he reported on sports events in which he was participating. With some of his first earnings, Frank bought some new clothes. When Frank paraded his new finery around Hoboken, he was stopped by police who questioned where he got them (this was in the depth of the Depression). His reply of "what's it to you?" resulted in a severe beating and a lifelong hatred of authority.

After hearing Bing Crosby in 1935, Frank decided he would become a singer. He entered many local talent quests and, finally, in 1938, won a prize, as a member of the Hoboken Four, on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour which resulted in his first professional singing job - as singer, master of ceremonies, comedian and head waiter at the Rustic Cabin. Here, in 1939, he was heard by bandleader, Harry James whom he joined as vocalist.

After only six months, Frank left Harry James to join Tommy Dorsey's band. During his three years with Dorsey, Frank build up a fanatical following of young fans which enabled him to launch a solo career in 1942.

Columbia Records paid Dorsey and his manager, Leonard Vanneron, $60,000 for Sinatra to leave the Band in lieu of a total of 43% of Sinatra's future gross earnings had he stayed. By 1946, he was selling an astounding 10 million records a year.

In 1947, a gossip column reported that Sinatra had been seen with mobster Lucky Luciano. Later that year, Sinatra punched Lee Mortimer, a Hearst gossip columnist, for calling him a "dago". The Hearst papers responded by accusing Sinatra of being associated with the Mafia and with communists. In 1949, these accusations were taken up by the Committee on Un-American Activities. Sinatra was fired from his radio show and his concerts flopped. An affair with Ava Gardner led to a split with his wife, Nancy. In 1950, he was dropped by MGM and MCA.

Sick and broke, Frank read the script for From Here to Eternity and convinced the head of Colombia Pictures to give him the role of Maggio (for $8,000 although he was previously being paid $150,000 for a film). His portrayal won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Within a few months, Sinatra had made three more major films (Guys & Dolls, The Tender Trap and The Man with the Golden Arm), had three huge hit records (Young at Heart, Learnin' the Blues and The Tender Trap), a new recording contract with Capitol and a TV contract with NBC.

At Capitol, Sinatra exhibited a much more swinging, jazzy edge compared with the straightforward, smooth ballad style of the Columbia years. In 1961, Sinatra formed his own record label, Reprise. Especially since Sinatra's move to Capitol came just before the introduction of the 12" LP record, Columbia continued to release many of Sinatra's older recordings on LP after 1953 - as did Capitol after Sinatra began recording on Reprise.

Siantra had affairs with actresses Lauren Becall and Juliet Prowse but returned to his "Rat Pack" buddies (Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and some say gangster Sam Giancana) whenever they seemed to be getting too serious. In 1963, the Nevada Gaming Control Board sought to revoke Sinatra's casino licence because of his mobster connections; Sinatra sold his casino interests rather than dispute the claims. At 51, he married Mia Farrow, then 21. The marriage lasted 16 months.

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