BY: David J. Domino
Frank Sinatra was born Francis Albert Sinatra on December 12, 1915, in an apartment at 415 Monroe Street in Hoboken, NJ. He was the only child of Italian immigrants Antonino Martino and Natalina (neé Gavarante) Sinatra. He was named after the Roman Catholic church where his parents attended mass. Due to some injuries at birth, his baptism at St. Francis was delayed until April 2, 1916.
His mother operated an illegal abortion service that catered to Italian Catholic girls and was respected by the Democrats in her community as a result. Antonino was a boxer, who used the name Marty O'Brien as Italians were not welcomed in boxing.
In 1920, Natalina and Antonino opened a bar at 333 Jefferson Street in Hoboken. The bar was named Marty's Bar and Grill.
Young Frank attended Demarest High School, but dropped out during his second year. His mother ended up finding work for Frank as a delivery boy for the Jersey Observer newspaper.
As a teenager in Hoboken, Frank idolized Bing Crosby, an Irish American crooner from Tacoma, WA. Although Frank often practiced singing at home, he did not start singing in front of an audience until performing at Marty's Bar and Grill in December 1933.
During the summer of 1934, he became an admirer of a local singing group, who performed in northern New Jersey. The group was called The 3 Flashes.
Sinatra was so impressed with the group that he offered to drive the musicians to gigs as none of the members owned an automobile and had to take a cab or bus to get to gigs. They instantly took him up on the offer. As a reward for being their chauffeur, they let Sinatra sing a few songs while they entertained guests.
The trio was composed of 3 Italian Americans, who were childhood friends on Sixth Street in Hoboken. Their names were James Petrozelli, Patrick Principe, and Freddie Tamburro. They worked as truck drivers when they were not entertaining as a musical group.
After helping the trio for a few months, Sinatra asked if he could join, but they were satisfied with the members they already had. His wish eventually came true when the group decided to audition for Major Bowes Amateur Hour in September 1935. It was a popular radio show that encouraged listeners to vote for their favorite act by calling the station or sending a postcard.
When Sinatra found out about the plan to audition, he told his mother, who begged the trio to accept her son into the group. They decided on letting him join and the quartet passed the audition to appear on the show. The group was called The Hoboken Four.
After winning the competition on September 8, 1935, the new quartet started touring in a traveling show for Major Bowes. Each member received $50 per week with meals. The money that they earned was more money than any of the young men had ever earned before. Unfortunately, tensions between the members of the quartet started brewing.
Sinatra's talent was noticeable to everyone in the group, as well as his ability to attract young female fans. He became the center of attention, which enraged Tamburro and Petrozelli.
Tamburro and Petrozelli decided to physically beat Sinatra as a result, which is why Sinatra decided to quit after 3 months of touring. He returned home to Hoboken and the original group continued with the tour, but broke up shortly after they finished. Principe and Petrozelli found jobs in Keansburg, NJ, while Tamburro went back to being a trucker, with an occasional singing gig.
In January 1937, Sinatra befriended a mobster named Willie Moretti in Hoboken. Moretti helped him get a gig singing at a bar once a week, in Jersey City, NJ. Moretti was a captain in the Luciano crime family, which eventually became the Genovese crime family.
The following year, Sinatra found employment as a singing waiter at a restaurant called The Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Sinatra met a popular musician named Harry James at The Rustic Cabin. James was really impressed with the way Sinatra sang at the restaurant and felt he had plenty of potential.
James had just left the orchestra of Benny Goodman, which was quite famous and successful, to form his own band. That night, James asked Sinatra to join the auditions for his band. James had a reputation and young Frank was definitely willing to join. James also asked Sinatra to change his surname from Sinatra to Satin, because he thought Sinatra sounded too Italian. Frank refused to change it and James did not ask again. Sinatra joined the band of Harry James as the vocalist in June 1939 and signed a 2 year contract.
Frank Sinatra and the Harry James Orchestra played at many places, the first being at Hippodrome in Baltimore on June 30, 1939. Sinatra also married Nancy Barbato that year, in Jersey City, her hometown.
James and Sinatra were doing well together until they had a disagreement over money. Luckily, James agreed to let Sinatra out of the contract. Sinatra happened to meet the popular band leader Tommy Dorsey six months later and signed a contract with Dorsey.
In early 1940, he topped the charts after recording “I’ll Never Smile Again." In June of that year, his wife Nancy gave birth to Nancy Sandra Sinatra.
In 1942, he topped the charts with the songs "In the Blue of Evening" and "There Are Such Things." Sadly, his friendship with Dorsey started to change that year. Sinatra wanted to go solo and Dorsey refused to release him from a contract that still had years to run.
Sinatra was making a decent amount of money with Dorsey, but his career was not his own. No matter what Sinatra said, Dorsey refused to let his biggest star go without Sinatra having to owe a ton of money to Dorsey. That was until Sinatra reached out to his gangster pal Willie Moretti, who visited Dorsey with two well-dressed hoodlums. Moretti pointed a gun at Dorsey and told Dorsey that he was glad to hear that he was letting Frank out of the deal. Dorsey quickly decided to let Sinatra out of the contract. On June 1, 1943, Sinatra signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist.
In 1943, his song "All or Nothing at All" topped the charts. During that time, Sinatra made his acting debut in the film "Reveille with Beverly," a musical film directed by Charles Barton. He also had a supporting role in "Higher and Higher."
On January 10, 1944, his wife Nancy gave birth to Frank Sinatra Jr. The following year, Sinatra starred in "Anchors Aweigh" with Gene Kelly. Sinatra also won an Academy Award with "The House I Live In," a short film that was made to promote ethnic and religious tolerance in the United States.
Despite the fact that other Italian American stars joined the service during WWII, Sinatra avoided military service. Columnist Walter Winchell said Sinatra paid $40,000 to avoid the service. To make up for not joining the military, Sinatra entertained the troops overseas, along with comedian Phil Silvers, during the end of the war.
In 1946, Sinatra recorded "Five Minutes More." The recording became a #1 hit, remaining at the top of the charts for 4 weeks. At the end of the year, Sinatra was spotted hanging out with mob boss Lucky Luciano, at the Havana Conference in Cuba. It was a big meeting for leaders of La Cosa Nostra, arranged by Luciano. Sinatra entertained mobsters as a crooner at the event, in the Hotel Nacional.
The following year, Sinatra had a hit song with "Mam'selle," which hit #1 in May 1947. Around that time, he was going through customs at a New York airport with a briefcase carrying millions of dollars. According to comedian Jerry Lewis, customs officials opened the case, but stopped the search due to the large crowd of fans wanting to get a glimpse of the star.
On June 20, 1948, Nancy gave birth to Christina Sinatra. In 1949, he starred in "On the Town." By 1950, the singing and acting careers of Sinatra started declining when people found out about the problems he was having with his wife due to an affair with actress Ava Gardner. Frank and Nancy Sinatra separated as a result.
Despite the decline of Sinatra's reputation and popularity, he landed a singing gig at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas through his connections in September 1951. He also began singing at the Riverside Hotel in Reno, NV. The following month, Frank and Nancy Sinatra divorced.
On November 7, 1951, Sinatra married Ava Gardner. He ended up making a successful comeback by starring in "From Here to Eternity" in 1953. Sinatra's role of Angelo Maggio was originally going to be given to theatre star Eli Wallach, yet Ava Gardner persuaded Columbia Studios head Harry Cohn to give her husband the part. Sinatra also signed a contract with Capital Records that year.
At the end of 1953, Sinatra began performing at the Sands Hotel and Casino, after an invitation by the manager Jack Entratter, who had previously worked at the Copa in New York. Sinatra usually performed at the Sands three times a year.
In 1954, Sinatra recorded "Young at Heart," which reached #2 on the U.S. pop charts. He also had a #1 hit with the song "Learnin' the Blues." The following year, he starred in the musical film "Guys and Dolls" with Marlon Brando. He also had starring roles in the films "The Tender Trap" and "The Man with the Golden Arm."
In 1957, Sinatra befriended Sam Giancana, the acting boss of the Chicago Outfit. Sinatra and Ava Gardner divorced that year as well. In 1958, Sinatra topped the charts once again with "Come Fly With Me." The song was written specifically for him.
The following year, he formed the Rat Pack. The group consisted of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. In 1960, Sinatra decided to leave Capital Records and form Reprise Records, which became a successful record label. He also starred in "Ocean's 11."
During that time, businessman Wingy Grober sold the Cal-Neva Lodge to Sam Giancana and Frank Sinatra for a very reasonable amount. The Chairman of the Board asked Dean Martin if he would like to be the manager of Cal-Neva, but Martin decided not to get involved with the particular establishment.
Later that year, Sinatra met with Joseph Kennedy, who was the father-in-law of Peter Lawford, and father of Senator John F. Kennedy. Joseph asked Sinatra if he could ask his mob pals to help get JFK elected as the 35th president of the United States. Sinatra obliged and met with Giancana, who said he would see what he could do to help out. Sinatra also did what he could do for JFK by organizing donor dinners, appearing in radio ads and performing a new version of his 1959 hit song "High Hopes" at concerts, which became the theme song for the campaign.
On November 8, 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president in one of the closest elections in U.S. history. On January 20, 1961, Sinatra sang at President Kennedy's inaugural ball along with Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Durante, Louis Prima, and Milton Berle.
During the spring of 1961, actress Marilyn Monroe began hanging out with Sinatra at his Palm Springs mansion. In early 1962, Sinatra started making some accommodations to his home in anticipation of President Kennedy's visit in March.
Plans of the visit changed when Attorney General Robert Kennedy started becoming very concerned about Sinatra’s deep ties with La Cosa Nostra and told his brother to end his friendship with Sinatra, after meeting with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who told Robert about Sinatra's connections to powerful mob leaders.
JFK agreed to end the friendship and asked Lawford to break the news to Sinatra. The news enraged Sinatra as he spent a tremendous amount of effort for JFK by adding extra cottages and a helicopter landing pad on his property. As a result, Sinatra kicked Lawford out of the Rat Pack, for being married to Kennedy's sister. Frank also decided to become a Republican.
In July 1962, a sheriff's deputy named Richard Anderson went to pick up his wife at the Cal-Neva Lodge, who worked there as a waitress. His wife was Sinatra's ex-girlfriend and Ol' Blue Eyes was not fond of the deputy.
When Sinatra asked Anderson to leave, the deputy explained that he was there to pick up his wife. Moments later, Sinatra grabbed Anderson and shoved him towards the entrance. A wrestling match ensued, yet ended when the deputy punched the Chairman of the Board so hard in the face that he could not sing on stage for an entire week.
Several days later, Deputy Anderson was driving with his wife on Highway 28, not far from the Cal-Neva, when they were driven off the highway by another vehicle. The couple smashed into a tree and Deputy Anderson died instantly, but his wife lived. Many people think Sinatra had something to do with it.
The following month, Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose, at her home in Brentwood, CA. The funeral arrangements were made by her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio. The legendary baseball player never forgave Sinatra for introducing her to his pals and believed Sinatra was detrimental to her well-being.
In 1963, Sinatra sold his share of the Cal-Neva, after being constantly watched by law enforcement officers over illegal activities at the Cal-Neva Lodge. Around that time, Frank Sinatra Jr., who was just beginning his career in music, was kidnapped by some criminals from Los Angeles, while he was in his dressing room, after performing at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. The kidnappers eventually freed Frank's only son and were later arrested and convicted.
On April 11, 1966, Sinatra recorded "Strangers in the Night." It became one of his most successful songs, blasting to #1 on the U.S. pop charts, remaining on the charts for 15 weeks. In July 1966, Sinatra married 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow.
After the marriage, comedian Jackie Mason made jokes about Sinatra's marriage to a woman around 30 years younger than him. As a result, Mason received threatening phone calls and allegedly received a beating by a few of Sinatra's goons, with Sinatra standing near to make sure nobody saw anything.
Sinatra and his daughter Nancy Sinatra recorded "Somethin' Stupid" in February 1967. The duet became a number 1 on the pop charts. The following month, Sinatra sent 5 goons over to give comedian Shecky Greene a beatdown during the filming of "Tony Rome" in Miami Beach, FL. It was after Greene made jokes about Sinatra, according to Greene. After some time, he heard Sinatra say, "He's had enough."
On September 9, 1967, Sinatra had his casino credit cut off at the Sands, on the orders of Howard Hughes, who had purchased the Sands earlier that year. Sinatra reportedly owed the hotel casino $200,000. After receiving the bad news, Sinatra walked out full of rage before a scheduled performance, yelled at the staff, destroyed furniture in his room, and broke a window.
He also came back drunk two days later and flipped a table on Carl Cohen, who managed the Sands. Cohen then punched Sinatra in the face. The blow bloodied Sinatra’s nose. That was the end of the cool relationship the Chairman of the Board had with the Sands.
In August 1968, Sinatra divorced Mia Farrow. The following year, Sinatra recorded "My Way." The song was written by Paul Anka, who wrote the song specifically for Ol' Blue Eyes. It was a huge success, blasting to #27 on the U.S. pop charts.
In 1972, Sinatra was introduced to the famous author Mario Puzo, after a friend introduced the two of them at Chersen's Restaurant in Los Angeles. Instead of shaking hands with Puzo, Sinatra cursed him out for creating the singer Johnny Fontaine in his 1969 bestseller The Godfather, as the character is loosely based on Sinatra. In addition to that, Sinatra ended his friendship with the crooner Al Martino for playing the role of Johnny Fontaine in the film of it and even had Martino banned from entertaining in Las Vegas until the early 1990s.
On July 11, 1976, Sinatra married Barbara Blakeley. The Chairman of the Board passed away in 1998 of a heart attack at 82. He was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes and a Zippo lighter.
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