...the stamp would've been a particular thrill.
He laughs. "Hollywood families are often dysfunctional, and in some cases the process can go on for years. We've had instances where the rights are shared between two different families who aren't speaking to each other. There have been times when we've eventually said, -If you don't approve this design, there won't be a stamp at all.-"
In the case of the Sinatra stamp, though, Sheaff says the family was not only relaxed and cooperative, but they provided the image that was eventually used.
"When you're dealing with somebody like Frank Sinatra, who had such a long career, one of the difficult things is figuring out which stage of his life you want to use. There was a lot to choose from, because he was very photogenic and he took a ton of photos throughout his career."
Initially, Sheaff says he settled on a shot from early in Sinatra's career, in which the singer was looking directly into the camera. "And I think it was Tina Sinatra who pulled out a different shot and said, -What about this one?- With all the looking we'd done, we'd never seen that shot before. But it was perfect."
Sheaff hired artist Kazuhiko Sano to execute the design. "He's a terrific talent, and he does people beautifully," he says of Sano, who has done everything from book coves to movie posters to limited edition prints, and whose previous stamps include tributes to the TV series All in the Family, the racehorse Secretariat and a style of music Sinatra wisely never attempted, disco.
"He does other things, too," says Sheaff of Sano's range. "But when you want something that really looks right on, almost like a photograph, he's great."
In designing this particular stamp, Sheaff even admits that he may have made a few points in the eyes of his aunt and uncle. "They were huge Sinatra fans," he says. "He's all they ever listened to, all they ever played."
Of course, their nephew teased them about it. "I was growing up in the 60's listening to rock n roll," Sheaff concedes, "so I spent half my childhood giving them a hard time about listening to Sinatra. But as I grew older, I began to appreciate him more and more."
And now. "Well, when the stamps come out, I'll send my aunt a bunch of first-day covers," he says. "And I'll probably get her a copy of the new CD." (That CD, Nothing But the Best, sports the same cover as the new stamp.)
This isn't the first time Sinatra has been honored by the U.S. Postal Service. In 2002, four years after his death, the post office in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey was renamed in his honor. But the stamp - 120 million of which will be produced - would have been a particular thrill to an extremely patriotic man, said the Sinatra family.
When he recorded for Columbia Records in the 1940s, Sinatra expressed his appreciation for and his vision of the United States in the song "The House I Live In (That's America to Me). "Written by Lewis Allen (lyrics) and Earl Robinson (music), the song paints a picture of a country made great by a diverse people free to speak their minds: "The church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see/ But especially the people, that's America to me."
Sixty-two years later, America is expressing its appreciation right back to the man who sang those words.