Watching Frank – Viewing Tips for Swingin’ Lovers (of Himself, Doing His Thing on TV)
*** Author Bill Zehme whose New York Times bestselling portrait of the extremely human "Sinatra, The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’", hereby flags some very specific viewing insights for those in search of secret and truly personal peeks into the man and his special moments—as televised and now handsomely gathered in this box set.
A Man And His Music:
The most iconic entrance FS would ever need to make – on television or elsewhere, for that matter. Yes, that’s his suped-up sleekster Dual Ghia roaring up in the darkness, with headlamp bidding you first hello; the vamped accompanying soundtrack is all pure penthouse-espionage-playboy with purpose. Note the careless hat-toss to studio floor upon arrival—purpose, right? Yes, too, this is the show where Gay Talese was taking notes in the shadows for his famous Esquire piece (“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”)—so, if you want a peek at that notorious Cold (which had mainly cleared up by the time of this rescheduled taping): Damned if it’s not right there, via sudden head- turn to adjust phlegm, during “Don’t Worry About Me.” (A week earlier when he cancelled the first crack at taping the show, he was very worried about himself—his Voice, first and foremost.)
A Man And His Music Part II:
Daddy-oriented moments of note: In their playful little duet, keep in mind that a father knows certain things that will always make his daughter laugh. Like affecting Daffy Duck’s sibilant “Yessssshhhhhirrrr, thatschhhh my baby”—it was wonderfully dumb and he loved doing it in her presence and it worked every time; there would always come a Nancy giggle. At that moment, Nancy’s “Boots” had reigned atop the pop charts in a way her Daddy’s records no longer quite did; so note that, when a few licks of her famous footwear megahit are slyly woven into a segue during the duet, how Daddy very spontaneously mock-protests: “Oh, that’s pretty sneaky….” But this is a proud papa—maybe just a little bit in awe of what a marvel he and her mother had created.
A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim:
Or to translate the equation: Majestic Cool + Transcendence + Elation. Start with Apogee of Cool—two men in black tie, planted on tropical rattan furniture, amid curls of smoke, one of Brazilian origin with guitar, other one of Hoboken origin with flawless vocal caress of the delicacy laced inside bossa-super-nova. Leaning back in lush repose, while Jobim sings a few licks in native tongue, FS declares: “Yeahhhh, it’s the only way…” That is genius observing genius—the rarefied air of which further prompts FS to alter his Brazilian-meets-Portugese pronunciation of that Girl (“tall-tan-young-lovely”—no “ands” necessary) who seems now to suddenly hail from a place called “Ay-pa-nayma”! Genius transcended by genius—next courtesy of Ella: In their latter segment together with full orchestra, please note during their turn-taking of splendid solo performances, as Ella launches into “Don’t Be That Way” (her first lyric: “Don’t cry….” whereupon FS, off-mic, tosses irrepressible compliment: “You MAKE me cry, baby!”), we then behold a small miracle: he sits down—indian-style / cross-legged (mussing those perfect trouser creases!)—on an aisle step of the audience riser and simply . . . loses himself. . . in her interpretation, bouncing along, oblivious to everything but her mastery of soulful rhythm—he is gone to another dimension of jazzified surreality, and he is just so elated— a very private reverie you will never see anywhere on film in earthly existence. He is just that gone. As he rejoins her, he proclaims in the lingo of be-bop, “It sho’ do feel good when it’s right, don’t it?” (This entire special stands as one of the most important hours in musical television history—worth the price of admission, period.)
Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing:
Dashing from his comical set with The Fifth Dimension, he is peeled from his Edwardian ruffles and re-draped into Nehru jacket—two fetching ladies are lending him the sartorial assist, natch—whereupon he instructs one beauty, “Lay them beads on me, baby!” (which she does, hanging those inarguably foolish 60’s Love-Beads around his neck), then—in his very next decisive breath—while positioned on stool at center of the orchestra, he softly but firmly tells conductor Don Costa (whom he all but mugged with adoration in the first moments of this hour): “Go!” And off he nuzzles into “Nice ‘n’ Easy / How Little We Know.” All the power you’ll ever need to know about him is on display in the delivery of that quiet, subtle “Go!” One more thing: His “Lost in the Stars”—amid celestial heavenly twinkling backdrop— is an image and performance that soothed no small mourning among certain loved ones in the days, and nights, after he left the mortal plane in May 1998. Consider as you watch: That’s right about where and how we want to imagine him, if we can’t have him here anymore.
Less than three months prior to this performance, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon upon arrival after the historic Apollo 11 lunar flight—on which the astronauts were serenaded, repeatedly, with a certain vocal artist’s Basie-backed recording of “Fly Me to the Moon”. Here, in talking his way up to that song, in the last segment of the program, we hear one of the shiniest essential Sinatra declarations of prideful empowerment ever spoken: “Earlier this year, ladies and gentlemen, I had one of the greatest thrills of my life. I watched three men fly to the moon—and imagine their surprise when they found out that I was there two nights ahead of them.” Just look at him glimmer and gleam so in that moment. Even he barely believes such a thing could’ve happened.
At Royal Festival Hall:
Only FS—after the pristine elegance of Princess Grace (Kelly)’s introduction that welcomed him to the stage—would dare to summarize her benediction this way: “What a press agent!” Whereupon we actually see him playfully stick out his tongue upon her Her Royal High-Society-ness’s exit to the wings. Frank loved flouting protocol as much as he truly did love protocol in all its correctness. Then—in the next slightly awkward moment—note how he sidles up to his great accompaniest/musical director Bill “Suntan” Miller at the piano and prods so as to get things started: “Just raise your hand. Watch what happens.” Miller followed orders and what happened was a concert Sinatra considered “what could’ve been my finest hour, really.”
Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back:
He’s done with his quasi-retirement; he’d watched enough cacti grow in Palm Springs; he’s (yes, nervously) Alive again, full of piss-vinegar-stomp and now he’s grabbing it all back. Still, never a fan of re-takes, only he would know whether his early monologue slip had any Freudian subtext: “Actually, I didn’t mind how much I’d miss this business… you know… uhh, I mean, I didn’t KNOW how much I’d miss this business. . . .” Meanwhile, celebrities dot the audience in various segments of this production— Lucille Ball, Fred Astaire, Milton Berle, Angie Dickenson—because this was, no question, an Event. But get a load of the moment whence he’s roaring away during “I Get a Kick Out of You” and pauses to directly address his little brother Sammy Davis Jr., also in the crowd, with the two-syllable question: “Jealous?”
The Main Event:
“Here, coming through the tunnel where so many champions have come before . . .” That was Howard Cosell in breathless voiceover while our eyes had landed upon the moment before the curtain parted, before the champ entered the arena, as he gathered himself for one last private inhalation of what was to come. And here, right in that moment, is the large forbidding man with the tinted aviator eyewear and neckless body, next to our star (where he always preferred to be, which went vice-versa, per our star’s wishes); this was the legendary Sinatra guardian, compadre el supremo, and nightlife entrepreneur Jilly Rizzo. Watch him plant that big fat kiss on Frank’s cheek, then lead him through the throng, clearing the universe for one man’s path. That is how it always worked, even in private, sort of. That, you see, was love. Also, please note the most indelible introduction of “My Way” ever spoken by Himself: “We will now do the national anthem but you needn’t rise.”
Sinatra and Friends:
His love for Dean Martin evinced in one swift gesture: During the opening “Where or When” performance wherein each Friend arrives beside FS to take a quick lyric, Dino affects Germanic accent, swingingly of course; Frank then instantly bops him upside the head and mock-shoves him off so as to bring forth, yes, Loretta Lynn (don’t ask). Their antics, Dean and FS’s, continue during the Guys and Dolls triumvirate performance with Robert Merrill who joined this cast, and this particular number, because previously scheduled Friend Bing Crosby had taken a spill from a stage a month before. (Within a handful of months thereafter, der Bingle—Frank’s boyhood inspiration and latter-day equal—would famously die after a well-played eighteen-hole golf game in Spain . . . where Sinatra never cared for the perfume, as we’ve heard—terrif-fically, too.)
Sinatra: The Man and His Music:
Blissful bond: Just exchanging eye-twinkles with Bill Basie in their not-quite-plentiful-enough moments together here, Frank is happier than he’d been all day, week or month before. Bank on it. They did something magical to each other whenever in close proximity. Both men knew how to lean so far backward in their rhythms to form a perfect union of sneak-up wallop unmatched. Together, they were our singular Secret Service men of song—who lived inside the same impossible beat. Plus, both looked damn fine in hats (though none in sight here).
Concert for the Americas:
Frank really, really hated his biggest hit, “Strangers in the Night.” You can really, really tell here. He was, you know, a dichotomous man. On the other hand, this may be the most joyous performance of “New York, New York” ever recorded. Watch him dance unto himself during orchestral wailing refrain. He is one triumphant mothery old lion and in full thrilling attack mode.
Live at the Budokan Hall:
Not that he was ever shy about sharing opinions or fairly off-color winks, but advanced (ageless) age unleashes fine funny freedoms herewith: Yes, he does actually pronounce—with great twinkling affection for his devout Japanese audience, no question— “Luck Be a Lady” at one point this way: “ruck-be-a-rady-tonight”. But better still, in his talk up to that tune, he states of his participation in the film Guys and Dolls: “I did not sing it [in the movie]—it was sung by that wonderful baritone Marlon Brando. Terrible, terrible…” He is now a man who can say and do whatever he pleases, while he pleases everyone in his midst. But wasn’t he always that, anyway?