It will be 10 years on May 14 since Frank Sinatra closed his ol’ blue eyes for the last time. The singer who started as the swoon king to bobby soxers of the `40s became the legendary entertainer with more than 70 movies and hundreds of evergreen songs to his credit.
Every Sunday and Wednesday though May, Turner Classic Movies will herald Sinatra’s contribution to the cinema with a marathon of his classic films and specials - all contentedly uninterrupted by commercials. His children, Nancy, Tina and Frank Jr., will host the event.
As an actor, the skinny kid from Hoboken ran the gamut, from the lighthearted original “Oceans 11” to dramatic coups in such films as “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Some Came Running.”
Though he fractured the hearts of teens everywhere, he soon pushed his way beyond teen-idol status and went on to star in clubs, on radio and in lightweight musical films. But his vocal cords ruptured in the early `50s and Sinatra found himself without a song.
Finally he agreed to record a dismal record with then-popular TV star Dagmar called “Mama Will Bark.” Though it seemed a dreadful comeback, it did remind fans that Sinatra could still sing.
Still, he was jettisoned by his high-powered talent agency and it looked like he was on his way to bar mitzvahs and weddings.
When he heard about the role of the moxie Maggio in “From Here to Eternity,” he begged for a chance to audition. He won the part and captured the best supporting actor Oscar in the process. He was on his way.
Sinatra became an entertainment icon, exhibiting opposing facets of his personality. Generous to a fault, he was often testy and dismissive. Rumored to have connections with the underworld, Sinatra swung with the Rat Pack, hustled the world’s most glamorous women (and married a few) and lived his life - as he so succinctly put it - HIS way.
Sinatra played a part in most people’s lives, one way or another. He was a lasting inspiration to musician Jon Bon Jovi. “I looked to another guy from Jersey who was able to tour and make 60 movies,” says Bon Jovi. “Frank Sinatra to me was a guy that really had the best of both worlds.”
Don Rickles, who became a lifetime pal of Sinatra, recalls, “I had great help at a time with Frank Sinatra in my early years, who boosted my career tremendously by his endorsing what I do and so forth.” But even Sinatra didn’t blunt Rickles’ prickly sense of humor. “Sinatra came into a lounge where I was performing,” Rickles recalls. “I said, `Make yourself at home, Frank, hit somebody.’ He doubled over with laughter.” From then on, Rickles was an “in” guy with Sinatra.
Academy Award-winning Marcia Gay Harden was asked to play Ava Gardner, one of Sinatra’s wives, in a TV biopic about the crooner. “I was afraid,” she admits. “I turned it down twice. It was a fear because she was so known and considered the most beautiful woman. Finally I said, `Oh, what the hey, go ahead.’ In my research I felt that she was someone who had such a gusto for life. And in my research I felt that the initial attraction (between her and Sinatra) was an attraction between outlaws. They met and they DRANK together. And they knew how to push each other to the brink of going a bit wilder than one would on his own ... Their experiences were highs and lows and fights and love and, that’s what I learned about her in my heart.”
Even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “Many people had an impact on my life when I was young. Frank Sinatra was one of them.”
Co-star and friend Shirley MacLaine said of Sinatra: “I always felt that, behind the shrewd, sometimes manic eyes was the deep recognition that the truth was more than he had yet seen, and his sometimes abuse of power was an important struggle to find and understand it.”
Ray Liotta, who played Sinatra in the 1998 TV flick, “The Rat Pack,” is impressed by Sinatra’s prodigious output but says it didn’t always serve the singer-actor. “I definitely think he was somebody who felt better continually doing things, the amount of product he put out there. Sometimes people think that’s an admirable thing, but some of it was schlock - even some of his music suffered, that `barking dog thing’ and some of his movies aren’t exactly the most riveting pieces of film. So I think there’s good and bad to that. Just to keep busy because you don’t feel like dealing with certain issues - sometimes it’s better to deal with the issues than have some of the product out there, especially since it lasts forever.”
It does last forever and TCM offers the best and the worst of Sinatra’s colorful motion picture career.
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Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Laila, is co-hosting NBC’s “American Gladiators,” which begins its second season on May 12. Laila says the most important thing she learned from her father was the way he treats people. “My dad loves people and no matter how famous he is, he never stepped on anyone else and doesn’t take himself that seriously,” she says. “He still walks around like the average man. I see all these other celebrities, a lot of times they walk around with their nose in the air. He treats everybody the same, no matter who they are - I don’t care if it’s the waiter or the CEO of `The Gladiators.’ He treats everybody the same way.”
Who would’ve thought that Robert Downey Jr. could rise from the ashes of his past and triumphantly star as the superhero in the new epic “Iron Man”? But the quixotic Downey has surprised us before. “I’ve never had any training as an actor,” he admits. “It’s not like someone says, `Things are going rough, I’ll pull out one of my tricks.’ I don’t have any tricks. I don’t have anything I really rely on. I just know when it seems to have gone well and when it hasn’t. And I know the technical stuff pretty well.”