Oh, how the Leader did doth protest a little too much - if only to reporters - on the great existential (or sexistential?) topic at hand: "I'm supposed to have a PhD on the subject of women, but the truth is I've flunked more often than not," he once lamented in a way nobody could actually begin to believe, anyway. "I'm very fond of women; I admire them. But, like all men, I don't understand them."
While it was generous of him to pretend otherwise, Francis A. Sinatra - a.k.a. The Man With The Golden Charm - was not, then or ever, prone to comport himself Like All Men, particularly in the unknowable realm of what he sometimes liked to call chez-chez la femme. ("Which means," he would point out, often onstage during a "post-time" Jack Daniels-sipping respite, "why-don't-you-share-the-broad-with-me?") Never a braggart, he actually both loved and bristled at the legends of his unmatched Seductive Megapowers. At a 1965 Hollywood writers' event, for instance, he famously demurred: "I can honestly say to you, slaves of the press, that if I had as many love affairs as you have given me credit for, I would now be speaking to you from a jar at the Harvard Medical School." But you also should know this about that bon mot: When longtime Sinatra-sanctioned photographer/ wisenheimer Phil Stern got wind of the comment, he doctored up a picture, inserting a dancing, be-hatted Frank inside of a Harvard medical specimen jar - and sent it to the Demurring One, who was so delighted that he called Stern immediately: "Hey, listen," he asked, "can you get me about a dozen more of these?"
That, of course, was the Real Frank, possessed of a preternatural unwavering confidence in his instinctive prowess with the female species and who was ever mightily, if slyly, pleased by all that it had reaped. His friends certainly knew the score: "The trouble with Sinatra is that he thinks heaven is a place where there are all broads and no newspapermen," sighed the mentor-sage Humphrey Bogart, whose own Holmby Hills Rat Pack predated and germinated Frank's subsequent merry Clan. The Swoonatra response, frequent and in general: "You can't live on Jack Daniel's alone, pally," he would say, especially between marriages when fully ensconced as the winking bachelor rogue with the seemingly incongruous impeccable manners of a nobleman. "I may sound old-fashioned," he began telling me a dozen years back, in reply to the query of how men might best show respect for females so as to lure them most winningly. "I notice today that good manners - like standing up when a woman enters the room, helping a woman on with her coat, letting her enter an elevator first, taking her arm to cross the street - are sometimes considered unnecessary or a throwback. These are habits I could never break, nor would I want to." And there was good reason why he didn't want to: Such moves only deliver foolproof impact in catching the lovelier sex off-guard. Frank Sinatra, you see, paid meticulous attention to their every nuance; he noticed everything, whereas most men did not (and do not). Gushed one of his long-ago trifles, Judith Campbell Exner: "He knows how to make you feel like a complete woman."
He was, as I've been wont to say, Sir Galahad in a snap-brim, defending feminine honor, deferring to all the ladies, wherever he could. Upon the death a few months ago of meadowlark Connie Haines, with whom he shared early-career bandstands everywhere, her New York Times obituary included this salient tale: "At one point when she was performing with Tommy Dorsey, she remembered, Sinatra saved her life. She was about to go onstage in Madison Square Garden when a smoker in a balcony tossed a match and set her ruffled tulle dress on fire. Sinatra threw his coat over her and fell on her, smothering the flames." (Damsels in distress were his specialty.) More than a little ominously, he was sometimes given to implore, "If there's one thing I don't tolerate, it's a guy who mistreats women." Or, as the poet Rod McKuen wrote of him in free verse liner notes to their collaborative album A Man Alone: "The one whose gentleness to women / touches on the renaissance / I honestly believe / he's never met a women yet / he thought to be a tramp."
Which may as well bring us to the 22 carefully selected come-hither overtures that infuse the new compilation album Seduction with a timeless irresistibility. (Per that, let me invoke the frequent appraisal beheld by his torch eternal, Ava Gardner, when watching him sing: "Look at that goddamned son of a bitch! How can you resist him?") In each pristine performance, whether purring soft or swaggering large, he merely splays open his heart (in whichever character mindset the lyrics require of him) to show off the scar tissue, the vulnerability, and the hope (always the hope!)- all emotionally-engineered to induce the most feathery of sighs or the most searing of desires. On a lark, I gave each Seduction track a closer listen than usual, dwelling on story content alone, and jotted down almost in haiku-like brevity the essential message Our Vocalist put forth, one after another, for definitive posterity. A random sampling - "Witchcraft": Portrait of one singular sucker for every last pheromone she emits. Maybe against best thinking - but still . . . "It Had to be You": She's a handful, buddy. But she's all your hands know and will ever want to hold. Period. "That's All": He ain't rich, but he has riches to share - all inside his sternum. It's all for her, forever. "Teach Me Tonight": He knew nothing until he knew This One, starting right now. NOW he just might be getting The Real Idea. And it goes on as such, with each song effectively building pedestals for each object of obsession and simultaneously reminding all women that their magical powers trump and trip even the most manful of headstrong men. Flattery like this, you know, would get him, well, everywhere. For certain, he knew.
"Since I first began to notice the difference between men and women," he instructed me (thus, also you, for my What-Would-Frank-Do book-primer The Way You Wear Your Hat), "which was somewhere around the time of my first birthday, women have sometimes been referred to as broads, chicks, skirts, baby, honey, and sweetheart. A woman's reaction to those words depends a great deal on how they are spoken and in what context." Then came this haymaker: "To me, they are all Ladies."
Oh, yes, he knew. He most certainly knew.